Climbing Mount Snowdon With #TeamHonk

“WOW!” moments: 2

“O.M.G. I’m going to die!” moments: 1

And that was just during the drive there…

Looking back I think I may have taken this climbing up Snowdon thing a bit lightly.

I spent the first half of my life, 25-odd years, in New Zealand. It’s got lots of volcanoes & big mountains & stuff. I could see the Southern Alps, with its 30+ peaks over 3 kilometres high, from my bedroom window, & I’d been up in the mountain passes there often.

Aoraki / Mount Cook. Image via Wikipedia

And in 2006 I climbed the Inca Trail in the Peruvian Andes to Machu Picchu, going up to 4,300M.  The only major problem I had there was altitude sickness, & I got over that after an hour of climbing.

So when the mighty Mammasaurus asked for people to climb with her I was excited! I hadn’t done anything that active in the 3 ½ years since the Mummy got a big tummy & I leapt at the chance to get out & about again. And she did offer me a lot of gin!

“It’s not a proper mountain: just a hill, really”, I told myself. “How hard can it be? I’ve climbed The Andes, dammit – that’s like 4 Snowdons!”

Ignoring the fact that the Inca Trail was me at 7 years younger, & that the most exercise I get these days is carrying Jake down the stairs in the morning…

Looking all serious at Machu Picchu
Looking all serious at Machu Picchu

As the days went on however I did start to become concerned. It gets cold up there in March. There’s snow. And ice. Rain & high winds. Poor visibility. And Yetis. I really hate Yetis.

It’s the day before the climb & I’m ready to go. Then I find that both cars need emergency repairs & tax discs. Then 2 teeth fall out. At one point I wondered if I would at all but eventually I managed to set off in one piece (minus 2 teeth), in a legal & safe car.

In typical non-comformist style I stayed overnight in the old Midlands house that we can’t sell while the rest of the team slept in a Snowdon hostel. I left early in the morning, aiming to meet up with everyone in the Llanberis carpark at 8.30 for a 9a.m. start.

I was having a good run in, until…

Turning a corner somewhere on a north Wales hill the car went into a spin: 360 degrees, with stone walls on either side & into oncoming traffic. I got lucky & hit nothing, but it could have been different. Black ice!

After that I drove much more carefully & slowly, being rewarded with some stunning scenery. Then I saw Snowdon & got all emotional, and a bit primal. As much as I love looking after my gorgeous twins for the first time in years I felt a freedom I’d forgotten!

My cautious driving however meant my arriving at 8.40, 10 minutes later than planned.

To more problems! The carpark was full, I was told by the spectacularly unhelpful man in charge, despite many unused spots supposedly reserved for ‘staff’ being clearly visible. He then pointed me to the nearest parking spot: back down the steep road, 20 minutes’ walk away. Stopping in a coach spot I quickly spotted a large group of excited people, mostly women in red pants. Running over I was delighted to recognise Penny from ‘Alexander Residence’; fortunately my “Hi Penny!” didn’t interupt her filming!

After a few quick introductions ‘Mummy Barrow’ & I went over to have a word with Mr Helpful. He just wasn’t budging. When the words “Health & Safety, you see” were uttered I decided to take ‘the better part of not punching anyone’ & just park down the road. The plan was for everyone else to take off but to just walk slowly so I could catch up.

It was a steep road! I legged it up the hill, & saw the group winding up the mountain path. Not knowing what pace we’d be able to keep up we were always concerned at getting back down before sunset, & at the time I’d felt confident that I could catch up quickly. Overconfident, as it turned out.

At least the view was good:

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I got back up at 9, out-of-breath, tired & hot, despite the cold weather. It was already clear that I wasn’t as fit as I’d hoped. Stopping to obey nature’s call I set off in pursuit!

After an hour, during which time the path got progressively steeper & rockier, there was still no sign of them. I heard later that the teenage boys in the party were setting a pretty good pace. I’ve been quite amused to read other posts that describe this part of the walk as a gentle introduction: by this time I was already knackered! I was by now kicking myself, almost literally, for stupidly deciding that I didn’t need the trekking pole I’d brought with me.

Again though, the views were good!

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Soon I came to a big lake & for the first time I started to have serious doubts. The track went off in 2 directions, I had no idea which way the team had gone & there was no signal on my ‘phone. I took what seemed to be the main track, one which I saw other climbers using. I was starting to wonder if I ever would catch up, if I was even on the right track. I was thinking that soon I might have to decide whether to carry on & climb the mountain alone, or turn around & go back home. Not a decision I wanted to have to make.

Fortunately I didn’t have to! At about 10:40 I rounded a corner to a stunning frozen lake – & finally found #TeamHonk!

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Apparently they’d been waiting there for some time. I was trying to press on but I guess my pace must have slowed as I became increasingly tired, despite all the Lucozade & snack bars!

They seemed as relieved to see me as I was them, giving me a warm welcome & shoving chocolate brownies into my sweaty hands! After a quick break – not before my realising, (while I was flat on my stomach about to take The Best Photo In The World Ever), that I hadn’t charged my camera – we set off again, together. I just wanted to lie down & sleep for about 10 years…

Unsurprisingly the climb got really tough from here on. Slippery rocks on narrow ledges, with steep drops on the side, then treacherous snow & ice. Soon I was really struggling; every step was agony. My body was screaming at me to just @%^!ing stop! But that just wasn’t going to happen.

The weather gods seemed to have been having fun with us as well! I’d come dressed for arctic blizzards & rain: thermal undies & socks, 2 T-shirts, shirt, thick jumper, padded jacket, ski-gloves, a llama-wool hat & waterproof trousers. But it was sunny & dry! It was cold but nowhere near as extreme as I had anticipated. One of my main problems was overheating: even with several layers stripped off I had to frequently stop to smear snow & ice on my face to cool down.

About this time Leela very kindly lent me her spare pole. It was a real lifesaver, & made a huge difference. Thank You lovely lady.

We were at the business end of the climb now: a long, hard steep slog over difficult terrain. I have no photos, sadly, but have a look at other #TeamHonk posts and you’ll get the picture! By now it wasn’t just me who was struggling.

And I thought it would be easy! I was very wrong. The 4 times higher Inca Trail, for me anyway, was a stroll in the park compared to Britain’s little old Mount Snowdon!

But we struggled on, encouraged & cajoled by Gemma & her friends Marit & Al, who so kindly volunteered their time to guide our climb.

Until finally we came to a long but gentle snowy slope, & after what initially looked like an impossible last clamber up a slippery lump…

THIS:

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Thanks to Annie ‘Mammasaurus’ for what is now 1 of my all-time favourite photos!

TOP O’ THE WORLD, MA!

I really don’t remember when I last felt so completely exhausted. But was it worth it? Absolutely! I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. The sense of achievement of finally getting to the top was immense. It really is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, but I’m so glad I did it.

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Thanks to Kate from Kate Takes 5 for a great #TeamHonk photo!

And of course I did it in good company. It was terrific to meet up in person with people I only know from blogs & twitter, & also with people I’d had no contact with before, although I was just too drained to be as sociable as I’d have liked. I’m hoping we can do it again sometime soon, somehow.

But of special  importance was that it was for “a good cause”. At last count we’d raised £5,655 for Comic Relief! Just £1, for example, pays for a child in Africa to be checked for malaria, £5 buys a net that stops him being infected in the first place. Potential life-savers!

After lunch the trip down was longer but gentler, easier overall but hard on the thighs & knees. And a good chance to relax a bit & chat.

Except… it had what for me was the hardest part of the whole day. Quite early on we were on a wide path which was mostly icy snow but with mud & gravel on the side. The side that had the sharp drop to unseen depths. Have I mentioned that I don’t like heights? That alone made me nervous. Then we had to get off the gravel & onto the ice. For the life of me I just could not keep my footing, even with the spiky pole. One slip could have, literally, been fatal. If it hadn’t been for Marit, our brilliant mountain guide, I would really have struggled!

Finally at the bottom, after some photos & knicker-throwing, & a few fond farewells, it was off to the pub! One of the sweetest beers I have ever tasted!

Now, as a certified Conqueror of the Mighty Snowdon, I have some advice for future climbers:

“Respect the mountain and she will respect you. Do not and neither will she”.

A lesson I had to learn the hard way.

Team Honk Snowdon are: AnniePennyTGemmaKateLauraMari, Marit, Al, StephDanielleHannahKatJenniferNikkiBruce, J, Kim, Miles,  Emma, Leela and Stefan.

Thank you to you all!

Especially those who kept me company while I was struggling on the way up. It’s a bit of a blur, to be honest, but I do remember chatting with Kat, Hannah, Leela & Emma. And making the final few hard yards with Annie. Thank you, ladies. Also chatting with Bruce & Marit on the way down.

Thank you to our guides & experts Marit, Al & Gemma.

Special thanks to Al for showing me that my borrowed pole had a pointy bit: useful in the ice. That was good tip, Al (sorry…).

Thanks to Annie ‘Mammasaurus’ for getting me involved.

Thanks to ‘Mummy Barrow’ for her vision & her organising.

Thanks to Penny for this brilliant video of our climb.

Thanks to Clare Balding for supporting us so much on twitter. Go #TeamBalders!

To Gower Cottage Brownies  for the chocolate deliciousness.

To Becky and everyone at Who Made Your Pants? for the sexy red knickers.

To Hi-Tec for the merino wool walking socks.

And to the Youth Hostel Association for the free meals. That morning after breakfast was like Mana from Heaven!

And thank you for reading!

And finally, of course, extra special thanks to everyone who sponsored us. Your generosity really will make a difference!

And it’s still not too late to sponsor us if you haven’t already. Just £1 could save a life!

Thank you.

Snowdon Climb Sponsor me!
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The priorities of a 2-year-old

I’ve been a bit blocked – lost my Mojo, if you like – pretty much since back in April when we moved to our little house here in Wales. Things haven’t gone according to plan, & as time passed & it became darker & colder I had become increasingly disheartened. I wrote about it a bit here & will probably post more soon. 

But: new year, new start & all that. I’m trying to get myself together & be more positive & productive.

So this is a post which I probably should have made at the time, back when that strange stuff called ‘Sunshine’ was about & we were all a little bit warmer. It’s a good story I think & so should be told…

Our tiny little Welsh house (which I don’t like) is in a tiny little Welsh town (which I do).

Having spent the first half of my life in New Zealand I especially like the fact that it’s on the coast. It’s a 5 minute walk from the house over grassy dunes to a stony beach, & there are other beaches & bays within easy driving distance.

bay1We had driven to a bay we hadn’t visited before & were out on the beach running around & exploring. The beach was sandy but punctuated with rocks & pools.

Ellie was really enjoying jumping in the shallow pools (aka “muddy puddles!”). She was lining up a good one, ready to jump…

You know that scene in ‘The Vicar of Dibley’? With the puddle?

Yep.

We tried to warn her but we were too late! I don’t think she was listening anyway.

She wasn’t happy. And quite wet. I blame Peppa Pig!

Meanwhile Jake grabbed my hand & indicated that he wanted me to walk with him, somewhere. Ellie seemed OK & drying out, so we left her pootling about with Mummy.

But where were we going? Jake was a Man on a Mission. He led me back up the beach: over the sand & past the rock-pools. Up the ramp. Back up the winding approach road. Over the little grassy field. Up the hill.  Into the car-park. Past the car. To the car-park’s ticket machine – and there we stopped.

He wanted to push its buttons. He hadn’t done it when we were first there, so he took me all the way back just to do so.

He’d passed up sun, sand, sea & rock-pools for a grotty old car-park, all because he wanted to push some buttons. I think that’s when I finally realised that what’s really important to a 2-year-old isn’t always what we expect!

What Christmas Means to Me

I really like Christmas. It’s sentimental, I know, but I just really like it.

I am hardly religious: I’d rather break bread with Dawkins than Desmond Tutu, to be honest.

And yes, I have all of the usual objections to consumerism, the commercialisation of an ancient religion; to the westernisation of a dead Palestinian press-ganged into selling Playstations and beer.

But I still really like it.

I’m looking forward to Christmas, ‘though I’m not expecting a visit from Jesus. I’ll be seeing my dad, my brother and sisters, my gran and my mum. They’ll be drinking white wine in the sun.

I don’t go in for ancient wisdom. I don’t believe just because ideas are tenacious it means that they’re worthy. I get freaked out by churches: some of the hymns that they sing have nice chords but the lyrics are dodgy.

And yes, I have all of the usual objections to the mis-education of children who, in tax-exempt institutions, are taught to externalise blame, and to feel ashamed and to judge things as plain right and wrong.

But I quite like the songs.

I’m not expecting big presents. The old combination of socks, jocks and chocolate is just fine by me, ‘cos I’ll be seeing my dad, my brother and sisters, my gran and my mum. They’ll be drinking white wine in the sun.

And you, my baby boy & girl, my jet-lagged infant son & daughter: you’ll be handed around the room like puppies at a primary school. And you won’t understand, but you will learn someday that wherever you are and whatever you face these are the people who’ll make you feel safe in this world, my sweet wide-eyed twins.

And if, my sweet babies, when you’re 21 or 31, and Christmas comes around and you find yourself 9000 miles from home you’ll know whatever comes your brother and sister and me and your mum will be waiting for you in the sun. Whenever you come your brother and sister, your aunts and your uncles, your grandparents, cousins and me and your mum, we’ll be waiting for you in the sun.

Drinking white wine in the sun, darlings, when Christmas comes we’ll be waiting for you in the sun, drinking white wine in the sun, waiting for you in the sun, waiting for you…

Waiting…

I really like Christmas. It’s sentimental, I know…

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Not my words – I wish! – they’re by the brilliant Australian comedian / musician / all-round good-guy Tim Minchin from his song ‘White Wine in the Sun’. I’ve only editted them for repetition & a little personalisation, but I really couldn’t have expressed what Christmas means to me much better!

It’s being released as a single on December 1st, proceeds going to the National Autistic Society.

Here it is in full, performed live during Children in Need:

Beautiful, profound, brilliant, right? So let’s make it Christmas number 1!

It’s sentimental, I know, but I just really like it 🙂

#TimMinchinXmasNo1

 

Music Monday: The Great Gig Meme In The Sky

So MusoDad is a ‘session blogger’ now – brilliant!

He’s started a musicky meme for which the equally terrific slightlysuburbandad has tagged me.

Like him I’m delighted to have been tagged as I love music & spend a lot of my time listening to it, blogging about it & tweeting it. And yes, I do have a “not-so-secret music sock puppet on Twitter”.

The meme is very simple: name your first / worst / best / last / dream gig, and select a song from each act to add to Musodad’s Spotify playlist. And I’m incorporating it into my regular Music Monday post, so I hope nobody minds my sticking some music vids on here as well.

First gig: Split Enz, Christchurch, New Zealand

I’m not entirely sure about this one, but I think my first gig was probably Split Enz in a small indoor venue in my home town of Christchurch, New Zealand. For those who don’t know Split Enz were a NZ art-rock band known for their glitzy outfits & quirky style. I loved them then & still do now. Their main man was Tim Finn, older brother of fellow band-member Neil who went on to form the more well-known Crowded House. The gig was televised & my main memory of it is watching myself leave at the end in my favourite & I thought oh-so-cool shiny brown vinyl jacket. Thankfully there are no photos.

Track added: My Mistake. I’m pretty sure they played it there, & it’s a great, odd little song.

My first big gig was probably the great Mr David Bowie at Christchurch’s QEII Stadium. It remains one of my all-time favourite gigs. At the time major international acts on a world tour would gig in Australia & if we were lucky do a night in Auckland, both of which were out of my young reach. Bowie – & he was huge at the time – was one of the few to venture south to smaller NZ cities & for this he will forever have my love.

Worst gig: Zero 7, Brighton Pavilion Dome Theatre

I struggled with this one. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a gig I would call bad. I adore Zero 7 & their music & they played beautifully here, from what I could hear. And there’s the problem: it was totally spoilt for us by massed ranks of drunken kids who did nothing but shout through the whole thing as if they were down the pub. Zero 7’s music is mostly quiet, slow, chilled, wonderfully relaxing & scintillating beautiful. It’s the very last sort of music that you don’t listen to & shout at your mates over. I really don’t know what the hell they were doing there. I asked the bloke behind me, actually quite politely, if they could be a bit quieter & I heard them plotting to ‘get me’ at the end. We asked to be moved but it was the same in the new seats. A gig my wife & I had been so looking forward to was utterly ruined for us.

Track added: The Space Between, 1 of my all-time favourite songs


Best gig: U2, Wembley Stadium

Yes, I know: U2, Bono, probably loved & hated in equal measure. They just happen to be my all-time favourite band, & I plan a post sometime about how they helped keep me sane in the 90s. I love their passion! So I guess this makes me very uncool – which is good as I’ve never tried to be cool. Apart from wearing haute-couture shiny brown vinyl jackets, obviously.

For me live music will never get better than this, & I will never go to a gig that rivals this one: this was once-in-a-lifetime, a dream come true. It was at the height of their Zooropa / Zoo TV tour, following on from the success of their great album ‘Achtung Baby!’. The opening acts Aztec Camera & PJ Harvey were worth the ticket price alone, & the set was astonishing. Huge, overwhelming light displays synched to the music. Massed banks of screens, many of which were screening live random TV, which Bono used during the show & which allowed a virtual duet with Lou Reed on ‘Satellite of Love’. A massive catwalk for Bono & the boys to prance around on & which was used for the more intimate, acoustic songs. Naomi Campbell guest-starring & filming with a hand-held vidcam linked to 1 of the big screens. A ‘phone call to Salman Rushdie soon after he had received his fatwa, who then answered from within the crowd. Fantastic, overwhelming, a concept gig! But most importantly, of course, the music. U2 are simply the best live act I’ve ever seen, & for me can’t be rivalled. If I had to choose 1 day to take to my grave with me – up until the birth of my twins – this would be it.

Track added: Where the Streets Have No Name. Probably the gig’s highpoint (along with ‘One’), & another of my all-time favourite songs.

Last gig: Faithless, Birmingham NIA

Still the only gig I’ve gone to since becoming a Dad, & a fantastic one, one of the best. Faithless are one of my favourite bands, & I had heard they were terrific live. So when I saw that they were gigging in nearby Birmingham I knew I had to try & go see them, even though the twins were only 9 months old. I did, & I wasn’t disappointed – they were fantastic. I did a rather gushy, slightly drunken review of the gig on my other blog, including scratchy live audio of most of it. I really should try to get out more!

Track added: Insomnia, 1 of their great dance anthems &, for me, the gig’s highlight

Dream gig: Pink Floyd

For this I mostly thought of regrets: gigs I should have gone to, or at least tried to get to, & didn’t: Dylan in 2010,  Led Zep when they reformed for the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert, Massive Attack when they gigged in Brighton & I somehow didn’t know about it. But the one that really got away & is still achievable, although sadly with a different drummer, is Pink Floyd, musical heroes since my youth. There’s never been anyone like the Floyd & never will be, another of the great live acts.

Track added: The Great Gig in the Sky. Well it had to be really, eh Musodad? The electrifying ‘song without words’, the last track of side one (yes, I had the vinyl LP!) of  ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’.

This is the bit where I’m supposed to tag a few people to do the meme, but to be honest I wouldn’t know where to start – except I’m going to see if I can once again tempt the terrific Daddacool to break his meme ban! So whoever is reading this then consider yourself tagged, OK?

The Gallery: Colour

Stowe Gardens  in Buckinghamshire, July 2007. It’s very green.

We used to go to public gardens & National Trust sites a lot Before Jallie, & as they get older we hope to more again. This country has a wonderful heritage of beautiful gardens, parks & woodlands, stately homes & castles. And this is coming from a guy born & raised in New Zealand! I think we Brits often don’t think of our country as a major tourist destination but it really is, & most of the rest of the world I think would agree. We have a tremendous cultural  heritage of which we should be very proud, in my opinion.

These are one of my favourite public gardens, back from when we lived in Brighton. They are probably the most photogenic of any I’ve been to, & seem to be designed with that in mind. Although it was July it was a grey overcast day, but even so I got many gorgeous photos there.

It’s well worth a visit if strolling through beautiful gardens is something that floats your boat!

The theme this week for Tara Cain’s wonderful Gallery at her ‘Sticky Fingers’ blog is ‘Colours’.  Why not go have a look at other posts there, & prepare to be dazzled! Just click the pic:

I just wanted to add a note, actually. It’s occurred to me that this photo may look as if it’s been tinted or otherwise altered. I assure you this is absolutely unaltered, straight from my camera – apart from the watermark. I often click Picasa’s ‘I’m feeling lucky’ to correct over- or under-exposure but I didn’t even do that here; it looked just right. I try as much as I can to reproduce what my eye sees; heavily photoshopped or altered images are an art-form but not what I would call photographs. WYSIWYG pics! Just my opinion; everyone’s different. For more see my ‘Daddy’s Photo Policy’ page.

Memememe

I’ve been memed, not once but twice. I love being memed! So thank you Tom Briggs at Diary of the Dad & Blue at bluebirdsunshine

These are the (combined) rules:

You must post the rules
The only rule of the blog memes is that you don’t talk about the blog memes
Thank the blogger who has awarded you and link back to them.
Post 12 (7) fun facts about yourself in the blog post
Answer the questions the tagger has set for you in their post and then create 12 new questions for the fellow bloggers you plan to tag
Tag 12 (5) people and link to them on your blog
Let them know you tagged them

It’s just possible that I might have made up 1 of the above rules

OK? Let’s go:

12 Fun Facts

1) “Fun facts about me” is probably an oxymoron

2) I like to use fancy-sounding, often obscure & sometimes completely made-up words to make myself seem more cleverer than I really am.

3) I like irony but I hate ironing

4) I have scars on my left forearm & left knee (bike crash*), right knee (surgery after a rugby injury) & the palm of my left hand (trying to open a can with a staysharp knife). It’s just occurred to me that my scars probably represent my life in microcosm…

5) Somehow, somewhen I my fractured left clavicle (collar-bone) & now have ruptured shoulder tendons as a result. I’ve had this for at least 4 years. It causes acute pain & restricted movement in arm & shoulder, both worsening. I was going to go into a rant about how shitty my local NHS hospital were in taking over a year in diagnosis & then – it appears – deliberately preventing me from having the op I need. And about how I think that this sort of thing is indicative of how the NHS badly needs radical reform, & how I have a deep, intense & entirely justified dislike of NHS Managers & some admin staff.  But then I remembered the ‘fun’ facts thing. So I won’t. Although I was going to refer you back to fact no. 1…

6) I use ‘fun facts about me’ memes to have a moan about my bad shoulder & the failings of the NHS.

Christchurch City (New Zealand) from the Port ...
Christchurch City (New Zealand) from the Port Hills. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7) As well as my home town of Christchurch, New Zealand (yes, the one flattened by the massive earthquakes last year) I have lived in Chicago & Atlanta, USA; Brentwood, Essex; Wood Green, Green Lanes & Lewisham in London; Brighton in Sussex & Erdington, Birmingham. I am also about to move to south Wales from my current home near Birmingham

8) I regularly played club rugby with a bloke who went on to win the Rugby World Cup. Playing in my position, on the wing. And he wasn’t even quick back then! I’ve always thought that it should have been me. I’d hate him with a passion but he seems like a pretty decent bloke.

9) I sort-of hold the New Zealand 100m sprint record for under-14 boys. I always will as they changed the age criteria just after I broke it! 11.7 seconds, in case you’re wondering.

10) I used to write film reviews for a company magazine, & had my own film reviews website back when the word “blog” was just a twinkle in its creators’ eyes.

11) I once spent £100 on a taxi ride from London to Dorset. I was determined to visit my cousin & his family there for Christmas, I didn’t drive & I didn’t know that public transport virtually disappears on Christmas Eve. I think that may have been the best Christmas present that that cabbie ever had!

12) My 2-year-old son can Beat-Box. FACT

12) I am unusually anarchistic in my attitude towards numbered lists. And I believe that any number greater than 12 isn’t really worth bothering with.

*I’d say “bike accident” but it had more to do with stupidity than anything ‘accidental’. I was young…

12 Answers to 12 Questions

1) Where is the most memorable place you’ve ever been? Skinny-dipping with my wife on my birthday in a hot pool in minus 10 degrees on a mountain in Iceland

2) If you could change the end of any film, which would it be and how would you change it?  Mamma Mia. The end should be scrapped entirely. As long as ‘its end’ is defined as starting exactly 1 microsecond after its beginning.

3) What would be your dream job? Getting to scrap the ‘ends’ of really bad films

4) What is your favourite smell? I love the smell of burning celluloid in the morning

5) What is your greatest extravagance? Cream in my coffee. Several times a day. Every day

6) If you could be a condiment, what would you be and why? Salsa. Because people like to say “salsa”

7) Where do you stand on the dunking of biscuits? I stand as close to the biscuits as I can, so I can eat them

8) My colleagues Lee and Fran are being cheeky; which one should I slap? I cannot condone violence of any kind in any way. But you could slip laxatives into their coffees. They are both really annoying

9) What is your favourite scary movie? Mamma Mia. Anything so utterly execrable & yet so popular makes me fear for humanity 😉

10) If you had to read one book from your school days once more, which would it be and why? My head says George Orwell‘s ‘1984’ but I think I’d find it too depressing to have confirmed how accurate were so many of its predictions for our society. I’d go with my heart then & reread ‘Puppet on a Chain’ by Alistair MacLean; because I remember enjoying it.

11) How much of your life did you spend on this meme? For this post I have carried out exhaustive research, both online & at the Library. I have searched my soul, wrung my hands & probed my conscience in anguish over & over again. I have lost track of the vast investments of time & energy I have made in the writing of these words.

12) Was it worth it, or do you hate me now? My life will never now be the same! And yes I do, but only on Mondays.

12 questions for the next victims participants to answer. 

1) Would you describe yourself as a ‘glass half-full’, ‘glass half-empty’, ‘just grateful to have a glass’ or ‘why isn’t this glass chrystal? And full of Cristal?’ type of person? And why?

2) How important to you in your blog writing is correct grammar, punctuation & spelling?

3) Jedward: Evolutionary throwback or the future of mankind?

4) While writing this post I came to see that my life could be, somewhat crudely,  summarised by my scars. Have you had any unusual insights into your life recently, & if so what? (That question almost sounds as if it could have come straight out of ‘Blind Date’. Sorry).

5) What are your pet hates?

6) What in your life most brings you joy?

7) Do you move around a lot, like me, or have you mainly lived in the same place?

8) Do you have a “It shoulda been me!” story? And if so, what is it?

9) What is your main claim to fame?

10) How long have you been blogging & what prompted you to start?

11) What is the most extravagant purchase you’ve ever made, not counting house or car?

12) If you were to enter Britain’s Got Talent what would your talent be?

You’re ‘It’!

If you feel that you have better things to do with your time I fully understand, & I apologise if you’ve already been tagged or even made a post for any of the memes that seem to be going around at the moment.

So, my Dirty Dozen:

BabberBlog
first-time-daddy
Here Come the Girls
SAHDandproud
Not Just Another Blog
Daddacool
daddy of two blog
Trouble Doubled
Chronicles of a Reluctant Housedad
Dad Who Writes
slightlysuburbandad
The Crumby Mummy

So go for it! It’s quite fun, honestly. And I’m looking forward to reading what you come up with 🙂

A Game of Two Halves?

In the wake of New Zealand’s magnificent & long-overdue World Cup victory I’m delighted to see that my twins are getting into rugby!

They’re both doing well with their communication: Ellie’s very good at saying words & she learns quickly, while Jake’s pronunciation isn’t as good but he is a better over-all communicator & is really good at signing.

So Ellie can say “rugby” pretty clearly, whereas Jake has a go but can sign not only “rugby” but also “rugby kit”.

Ellie can catch a rugby ball (albeit from a height of about an inch); Jake can’t yet but is very good at throwing it. So between them they make a pretty decent player!

They’re both pretty good at picking up the ball & running with it, usually with the other in pursuit. I must admit though I’m not used to rugby players finding it all so hilarious & laughing hysterically as they run!

The ball-carrier often ends up on the ground, with the other piling on top: proper little rugby players! Although I usually have to penalise them for not releasing the ball or not staying on their feet…

All in all Jake & Ellie have made this rugby-loving Daddy a very proud & happy man.

The Gallery: Education

The theme this week for Tara Cain’s Gallery over at Sticky Fingers: “Education”. Interesting one!

She’s had the brilliant idea (suggested to her by a twitter friend) of making a BLOGGER YEAR BOOK. Unfortunately I don’t have any old school photos; I think they’re all with my Mum for safe-keeping on the other side of the world. Probably just as well, for me anyway!

I do have this photo ‘though:

I’ve mentioned my Dad here before, how he passed away in 2004. He was born & educated in Northumberland, for all of my childhood & as a young adult growing up in New Zealand a place I knew very little about. I felt I knew very little about him as a young man & about his roots & his early life.

So when in January 2008 I found myself in Newcastle I took the opportunity to go on a Quest to find out more about the most important man in my life, my Dad.

All I knew was that he was the son of a Cornish miner who moved north to mine coal, that he grew up in Ashington & that he attended  Morpeth Grammar School. After some asking around I managed to track down what used to be his school. Most of it had been rebuilt, & it was no longer a Grammar School. The staff there though were brilliant: when I told them why I was there they were fantastically helpful. They gave me full access to their archives, letting me stay there as long as I liked. After a lot of digging I came across  the above, my Dad’s actual School Register, also School Rolls: fantastic! No report cards ‘though, unfortunately. It was so amazing to get a glimpse of his distant childhood, a time that was so important to him & that I knew so very little about.

From there I even got his house address & was able to zoom off to Ashington, to see the place where he was born & raised. I could almost see him there, it was so rich with history. I took so many photos that the current occupant got very suspicious & came out to ask me what on Earth I was doing. Can’t say I blame him, really!

I’m so glad that I was able to in some small way connect with him & his roots in this way! And all because I knew the name of the school where he was educated.

So who’s the teacher’s pet? Who’s been sent to the Headmaster’s office for a ‘chat’? For more educated Gallery posts why not head over to Sticky Fingers (click the pic):

Hometown Glory Gone

Warning: this is not a cheerful post. Some people may find its content disturbing.

My Dad was English; he grew up in Ashington, Northumberland, a miner’s son. He emigrated to New Zealand when in his early teens, in search of a better life. I like to think he found it. I seem to have returned the Mother Country’s compliment: I hope it was a fair trade. He met my Mum there, a Dunedin woman of Scottish descent; her grandparents were Glaswegian.

They married, settled & raised a family – us – in Christchurch. Yes: Christchurch. That Christchurch, the one that’s been on the telly & in the news.

My home town. New Zealand’s 2nd largest city. Where I spent the first 25 years of my life.

It used to be “The Garden City”, full of beautiful gardens, parks & rivers.

It used to be known as a world centre of rugby: the dominant ‘Super’ rugby team, the Crusaders, were based there; it’s produced many many great All-Blacks.

It used to be known as the gateway to some of the world’s most beautiful scenic & adventure, & more recently ‘The Lord of the Rings‘, locations;  & the main air-link to Antarctica.

It used to have a beautiful central gothic Cathedral as it’s city symbol.

This one:

whatsonningbo.com

Now it’s ‘that place where they had the earthquake’.

147 dead, including a 7-month-old baby, many still missing. There were people in that beautiful Cathedral spire: none came out alive. Much of the city centre is rubble; bodies lying, covered, in the streets as rescue squads concentrated on trying to save those trapped in the wreckage. Most of the city without water, much without power.

AP New Zealand Herald Mark Mitchell

Flooding, landslides, houses destroyed by falling rocks. Many streets impassable due to cracks & liquefaction. Outbreaks of gastroenteritis due to poor sanitation. Hospitals overflowing, the injured flown to hospitals all over the country. Rescue squads flying in from all over the world, the military drafted in, tanks in the streets.

Martin Hunter Getty Images

These things happen in ‘other countries’: China, Haiti, Bangladesh, Thailand. Not in quiet little old New Zealand, not in my beautiful home town, my Christchurch.

I feel as if a part of my life has been ripped away from me, forever; like I’ve lost a piece of my heart. And I have, really.

Hannah Johnston Getty Images

Kiwis, no matter where they are in the world, always retain a sense of place, of origin, an eternal identification with their home country. We will never forget the community spirit that NZ often enjoys, that is rarely found in older, bigger countries. My fellow ex-pat ‘Vegemitevix’ has expressed this far better than I ever could.  Right now the whole nation is pulling together to help, regional differences forgotten.

As a school-boy I cycled past the beautiful Avon River 10 times a week for 7 years, past a much-used & much-loved old wooden footbridge, a local landmark . We used to hang out there on weekends. It was destroyed in the September ‘quake, then rebuilt. The may  need to do it again.

Hera Herajdottir

When I left home & started work I cycled into work along the smooth well-maintained streets

Asher Trafford
Asher Trafford theatlantic.com

past houses, shops & churches

Dan Shelley

up the ‘main drag’,  Colombo Street

Richard Bishop

& into the city centre

Martin Hunter Getty Images

then into work. (The red & yellow ‘Post Office’ sign on the left, below? I worked there for 2 years; my first job)

Reuters / TV3

On sunny days, of which there were many, I’d often eat my lunch in the spacious & beautiful Cathedral Square, the city’s beating heart; many times on the Cathedral’s steps. Mostly rubble there now.

REUTERS/Don Scott/Christchurch Press

I used to love to visit a city landmark near my flat, even attending services there: the city’s beautiful Catholic Basilica:

AP / NZPA / David Wethey

So much destruction, so much death, so many lives ruined.

I’m just thankful that the friends & family I have there are unharmed. I’m also aware that many were not so fortunate.

A cousin’s son worked in the CTV building, until just a few months ago when he left to start his own business. Post-quake he was up all night trying to do what he could there for any of his former colleagues. There were no survivors.

AP New Zealand Herald, Brett Phibbs

I’m grieving for my devastated city & its people. So much of what comprised 25 years of my life: gone. And a part of me with it. Christchurch will survive, of that I am sure. But it will never be the same – and neither will I.

The New Zealand Prime Minister has set up an international Christchurch Earthquake Appeal. If you’d like to donate you can do so here

I’m sorry for the change of tone in this blog; I had to ‘get this off my chest’. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Thinking Of My Family

all I can think of today is the earthquake in my home town of Christchurch, New Zealand – this time in the middle of the day

I was going to do a post about Jallie’s increasing mobility & agility, & how it’s giving us extra problems: they are now able to climb over the Moses basket barrier we have at the Nursery door, & this morning Ellie climbed out of her cot onto the bed.

But all I can think of today is the earthquake in my home town of Christchurch, New Zealand – this time in the middle of the day. The last report I heard was 65 dead & more expected, many trapped underneath rubble, so many of the familiar landmarks that I grew up with now largely destroyed. It’s already one of the biggest disasters in New Zealand’s history.

I still have a lot of family down there & thankfully they all seem to be OK. There are still big aftershocks & a lot of them are camping under tables, etc. I’m in a slight state of shock & I wish there was more, something, anything, that I could do.

Photo via stuff.co.nz