Adam Bird


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Sunday, 29 May 2011

LoveFilm? My top 10


For the past six weeks or so Stephanie and I have been members of LoveFilm, a postal rental service whereby for a fixed monthly fee, you can watch as many movies from their database as logistically possible. Simply browse their catalogue, select what films you would like to watch and they randomly choose two for you to watch at home. Once you are finished, send them back and they’ll send you two more.

Being parents now, a visit to the cinema is a rare occasions, we have to invariably find a babysitter and so the last minute spontaneity of our courtship is something we’ve long lost. With our LoveFilm membership it gives us a chance to catch up on what everyone else has been watching and talking about for the past few years and see if there are any films that break the monopoly of my top ten list.

We’ve all probably been asked, “what’s your favourite film” and we’ve probably all got an answer, for whatever reason. Like a book, what you may hate another person will love, what you’ve though wonderful someone else may detest.

So on the understanding that a personal blog is about capturing your particular thoughts of a particular subject in a moment in time. Here is my top ten film list as of May 2011.

Forrest Gump
First on my list, a Tom Hanks movie which most people have probably seen. I saw this for the first time at the cinema on a Friday night with my parents, and the second time the following day with a girl I was in love with at the time. This film is a perennial tear jerker no matter how many times you watch it, life really is a box of chocolates.

Despite probably being not 100% historically correct, this film, on first viewing will have you captivated from the first scene to the last. As an Englishman you are left with a sense of repulsion for the acts committed by so called King and country as you get behind the underdog avenging the murder of his one true love. Romance, action, bloody battles and revenge. What more could you ask for?

The Pursuit of Happiness
There are movies that you have never heard of, despite having one of the biggest names in Hollywood as the staring role. You press the information button on the remote control to see what the latest movie is all about and you think, “sounds alright, nothing else on” and you sit for the next two hours totally engrossed with what’s playing on screen before realising that you have tears streaming down your face and no matter how hard you try you just cannot man the hell up, but it doesn’t matter because your wife is doing exactly the same thing and both of you realise just what an amazing film you’ve both sat and watched.

Pulp Fiction
Probably one of the coolest films ever made. Okay so it has violence, drugs, bad language, blood, gore and sexual perversity but it has Samuel L Jackson, Uma Thurman, John Travolta and Bruce Willis all brilliantly directed by Quentin Tarantino on the backdrop of the greatest movie soundtrack ever.

The Shawshank Redemption
I’d hazard a guess that if you asked a thousand people what their top ten films were, The Shawshank Redemption would be on all of them. Amazingly atmospheric, narrated by Morgan Freeman who’s voice alone haunts this movie in such a poignant way that whenever you hear it elsewhere you always think of Andy Dufresne..

Man on Fire
This is a movie about vengeance, revenge against those who have perpetrated great evil against you. But this is Denzil Washington who has been wronged and unlike other movies you genuinely sympathise and want revenge just as much as he does. Guns and action aplenty.

The Goonies
Goonies never say Die! The movie that as kids, we always borrowed from the video shop. Chunk, Sloth, Mikey, Data and the guys. Steven Spielberg's much loved action adventure for kids everywhere.

Dumb and Dumber
Growing up, Jim Carrey was my favourite actor and this is without doubt his funniest film. Harry and Lloyd, two pals on a trip to deliver back Mary Swanson’s briefcase. From the first line to the very last, you’ll be LOL'ing the whole way through.

The Usual Suspects
Like Fight Club, Momento, Seven and Magnolia, those films which you watch for the entire duration only for the last scene to flip everything on it’s head and leaving you asking “what the hell just happened?” in this case, who actually is Keyser Soze?

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Jim Carrey, check, Kate Winslett, check, Kate Winslett with died pink hair and running around in bright pink under-crackers, double check. This film, in which Jim Carrey plays it all serious is very cleverly executed, just make sure you pay attention at the back.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The End?

The End?

Last Saturday, the 21st of May, passed just like any other, much to the confusion and dare I say it - annoyance to a preacher named Harold Camping and his followers. Harold Camping is a Christian Evangelist and predicted with utmost certainty that on this date, the world would come to a catastrophic end for millions, and the start of something wonderful for the believers of Christ, as this date would see the ‘second coming’ or the ‘rapture’ as prophesied in biblical texts.

It would be easy to laugh, to ridicule and use Mr Camping as another example of Christian eccentricity but their are plenty of Christians making obscene and outlandish claims on a daily basis, such as the one about living life as a Christian means that you are not allowed to mix with non believers, or that two family members cannot socialise as their churches have different beliefs. But those people don’t get the negative publicity and ridicule as a good old “end of world” proclamation does.

In fact, Mr Camping has done more harm than good to the Christian faith, people reading these headlines use them as further bait to ridicule and laugh at the “Jesus creeper/bible basher” majority who understand their faith and are more in-tune with the real message of the bible which is that the nobody, least of all God knows when the rapture is going to occur.

Anyhow, my knowledge on biblical prophecies is fairly minimal and not the main reason for me writing upon this topic. What does interest me, however is the human interest in “The end”, our curious fascination with the exact moment when human life ceases to be no longer. Be it through a natural disaster, a religious leader returning to earth to claim His servants or being obliterated by the Martian Navy Seals. It seems that whichever way we are destined to go, we want to know about it, embrace the Hollywood depictions and yet seem to revel in mocking anyone putting an exact date upon our inevitable demise

The Internet is awash with millions of articles and discussions about Armageddon, Judgement Day, Worlds End and events of an Apocalyptic nature dating way back to since time began all the way through centuries of the future. Next year is of some particular interest, with the ancient Mayan calendar ending on December 21st 2012 (Oliver’s birthday unluckily enough!), but even then, this event only really bares any significance due to the 2012 blockbuster movie of the same name and the resulting Internet rumour and speculation which is likely to increase exponentially as we draw ever closer to that potentially fateful date.

Reality however paints a far bleaker picture, as Benjamin Franklin once said "but in the world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes". We are all heading for our own Judgement day, the day when when we find out once and for all what lies beyond the secret walls of death and learn categorically without doubt what eternity holds. Does the idea then that we may all, at once be hit from a rock from outer space, comfort us? Knowing that by dying instantaneous along with our loved ones that we will not be leaving anyone else behind and that the personal nature of death becomes a shared experience?

Since writing this, Mr Camping has been in the news once again, adjusting his dates accordingly. Which means, that by his latest calculations we have until October 31st of this year to complete our business and say our farewells, after of course doing all the things that we wanted to do. In fact there are a rather large amount of worrying stories about people who took Mr Camping’s word as gospel, gave up their jobs, sold their houses and made a manner of other preparatory moves to conclude their earthly existence.

Wouldn’t it be nice if things really were that simple? That a global announcement was made, “Ladies and gentlemen a meteor is heading our way, you’ve got six weeks to say your goodbyes” and we were left to our own devices. Would we all patiently put our houses up for sale, quit our jobs and wait patiently in line for the next plane to the nearest desert island? I’d hazard a guess that things would be nothing like the sort.

Maybe it’s the fact that from a selfish point of view, we as human beings want to be the last out the door? Knowing that the Apocalypse happened on our watch, in our lifetimes not eons down the ages and that we were the last of our kind? That our lives were lived out like the conclusion of an expensive movie and that the answers to our questions were answered right at the end?

But then again, if you start thinking about it too much we can surely forgive Mr Camping for being a little bit crazy?

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Swimming, Swans, Slides & a Swoosh!

Coastline at Portland Bill

Sometimes we forget what a truly beautiful country that we live in. We get stuck in the monotony of life, the same places, faces, commute to work, back again, routines and school runs and sometimes you need a reminder that it need not be that way. Our country has sights worth seeing, villages worth visiting and natural habitats that allow children to get up close and personal with wildlife and animals.

Last week, Stephanie, Oliver and I spent four nights in Weymouth with Stephanie’s parents, Pat and Colin. We collected tickets out of the newspaper which allowed us to apply for a five day break at any of the country’s Haven holiday parks - all for the bargain price of £9.99. With Oliver not yet in school, it was the perfect opportunity for us to take a break outside of term time for what’s likely to be the final time!

On arrival at the Seaview holiday park, after a nightmare two hour delay on the M25 we were longing for a swim in the pool, or a refreshing drink in the late afternoon sun, looking down at the water in which the name of the camp implies. We decided to take a stroll around to the sister park next door as the swimming facilities were slightly better, but having arrived late on in the day, we didn’t have a great deal of time.

View of Chesil Beach from Portland

Before we left, Oliver was talking non-stop about the things that he was looking forward to doing - swimming being one of them. But all dressed up in his shorts and arm bands, his courage deserted him when it mattered.

The last time Colin had taken Oliver swimming was in Mexico back in 2007, when Oliver, not yet a year old would quite happily sit on the edge and throw himself off for one of us to catch him in the water. This modern day Oliver, refused to get in, before relenting - just about! Only after words of encouragement and bribery forced his hand into slowly edging his way down the steps, top lip quivering with cold before finally he grabbed onto my shoulders, scared and gripping me for dear life.

We managed to end our brief swim with Oliver in the brave new territory of just about floating by himself, albeit still holding firmly either of our hands but he’d already come along way in a short space of time. Over the course of the next four days, Oliver’s progression was impressive. By the end of the week he was doggy paddling, (with arm-bands) the entire length of the 20m pool and back again. He even went as far as swimming around the rapid powered lazy river attached to a float, not bad for less than four hours work!

Portland Bill Lighthouse

There was some guilt when we saw the fear in Oliver’s eyes, swimming should be fun, which it was, but it took a little work to get there. Stephanie and I have since made a vow that we will try and take him to the local swimming pool on at least a weekly basis, so that next time we go away, he’ll hopefully be swimming rings around us both!

One of the things I was looking forward to before we arrived was being reacquainted with the beach at Weymouth, famed for it’s sand sculptures and shallow waters, Portland Bill and Chesil Beach for their unique form and setting, which evoke childhood memories of a camping trip that I spent with my own parents and was keen for Oliver to have memories of something similar.

As the weather was so nice on our first morning we decided to see the coastal sights then rather than wait till later on in the week when the weather might not be quite so good, which ultimately was a great decision in the end as we enjoyed the finest weather of the week that day!

Climbing Chesil Beach

One thing that I had not prepared myself for, was the view from the top of Portland. Maybe I was just like Oliver when I went as a child, more interested in climbing rocks and up hills rather than standing at the fence edge and nodding with admiration. Now that I am of a respectable age I looked down and appreciated the view of Weymouth Bay, the port and the view along 18 miles of Chesil beach, which curved off into the distance.

You could, if you wanted park you car at the summit of Portland island and walk around the coastal path, taking in the views and finding secret coves and sheltered bays. But with Stephanie being pregnant and Oliver being a little too adventurous with his rock climbing we found it easier to travel the coastal road by car, stopping whimsically and heading down to Portland Bill, the very southern-most part of the Island where the light houses are situated and the terrain is at it’s rugged best.

We spent a good two hours at Portland Bill, stopping for coffee at the beautifully named Lobster Pot, but spent the rest of the time climbing across the rocks looking for crabs whilst Oliver spent the entire time throwing any rock, stone, boulder back into the sea that was physically possible. We took a walk along the cliff face and watched a set of hardy canoeists setting out for an afternoon adventure, braving the waves as they crashed violently against the rocks.

Sharkey's Slide

At one point, I very nearly became another nautical statistic. Standing not too close to the edge, but close enough taking photographs of Oliver and the scenery when a big wave hit and crashed over me from the bottom down. Stephanie later commented that it was the funniest thing she’d seen in a long, long time, but I was more worried about damaging the camera and a set of soggy pants than her viewing pleasure!

Chesil Beach still on our list of things to do, we decided to kill two birds with one stone by picnicking on the beach. Oliver was once again besides himself, he was in stone/pebble/shingle heaven! Ever since he could crawl he has had a fascination with stones and as we made our way up and over Chesil beach to the other side, he gave himself just one goal - to return as much of the beach to the sea as he possibly could!

Although sunny, it wasn’t as warm as perhaps we would have liked with a brisk sea breeze meaning that everyone was in need of a coat, whilst Oliver and I warmed ourselves up by running up and down the huge banks of steep pebbles which at every step we’d collect more than our fair share in our shoes, making for extremely uncomfortable climbing. But the best part of all was listening to the waves come in, crash against the stones, before recoiling back out to sea, dragging with the water the noise of a million stones rocking back and forth.

Oliver's Gorilla Friend

We’d had our fair share of walking so far during our first day and although Oliver had enjoyed himself hugely, he wouldn’t give up on his one big dream. The huge “curly whirly whirly” slide he had seen on the internet. Everywhere we stopped he would ask us “are we at the indoor play centre yet?”. So much for trying to include Oliver in our planning! By showing him things on the web before we left we didn’t realise that they would stick so firmly in his mind!

We set off to find Sharkeys, the indoor play area right on Weymouth harbour so that he could experience first hand the large “curly whirly whirly” slide which managed to live up to such high expectations - the look on his face was worth the entrance fee alone. You go all that way, to a different place, a change of scenery, but it’s the same pleasures that keep him amused.

There was one draw back to having such beautiful, if not windy weather. It wasn’t until we got home and sat down for dinner that we realised our faces were all still rather warm. I looked myself in the mirror and looked stupidly back at myself, a bright red face, with white “panda eye” marks where I had been wearing sun glasses all day. Stephanie, red as well, but distinctively more noticeable with her bright white eyebrows which glow in the dark, much to her embarrassment. But the blushes went to Pat, my dear mother-in-law who wears her hair with a fringe that comes down over half of her forehead. The sun had given her a nice toastie shade, all except for the patch of skin under her hair which was all nice and sheltered from the warmth. This became known affectionately as Pat’s ‘swoosh’, the piece of fringe that swooshed down across her head, which she would either have to brush the other way to give her a nice all over tan, or keep concealing her unique white patch.

Lulworth Cove

If we thought that the weather was going to hold out in time for us to tan over the white bits we had all made for ourselves we were in for disappointment. The following day was overcast and threatened rain. The only way to brighten up the day was for a dose of laughter, always the best medicine. Who better to make us laugh than a range of primates at the nearby Monkey World? If you ask Oliver what his favourite part of his week was, he’ll tell you about the monkey with the tongue. A gorilla which walked around the enclosure, ignoring us gawping through the perspex window waving stupidly and pulling faces until when, reaching Oliver he stopped, cocked his head and looked Oliver square in the eyes. Oliver, pushed his face up close to the screen and started pulling faces, poking out his tongue and rolling his head from side to side. Much to Oliver’s hilarity the gorilla started doing it back and mimicking Oliver’s actions. Oliver couldn’t stop laughing and was going on about it for the rest of the day. Certainly made our day too that’s for sure.

Seeing as we were in term time, Monkey World was fairly quiet, which allowed us to see the all the sights by early afternoon, leaving us with some more needed time to explore further the Jurassic coast for which this part of Dorset and the UK is famed for. One of the biggest tourist spots is Lulworth Cove, a perfectly rounded cove which sits by another picturesque village of the same name. Although the weather has been seasonally warm for April and May, the water takes time to warm up, so paddling in the bay was a brave as I would venture. Plus, it was also remarkable hazardous, particularly with a four year old boy throwing all manner of rocks, stones and boulders only inches away.

At this point, I was struck, not by Oliver throwing stones, but one of those long repressed childhood memories. Standing by the water with Oliver, reminded me of standing next to Dad on a similar stretch of water. Just as Colin did when he joined us and started to skim stones. He was knocking on the eight, nine and ten bounces whilst I was lucky to get just two or three. I remember thinking as a kid that you needed to be an adult to do this right, which I found out to be untrue, you just need to have a technique, which once again I find myself lacking. Still, there is plenty more time for me practice until Oliver realises my skimming shortcomings, if not, he’s still got either Grandad to show him how it’s done!

Feeding Gerbils at Abbotsbury Farm

After another busy day on our feet we were all desperate to get back and put our feet up, maybe get some fish and chips as we were all too tired to cook!

Night times on a caravan park are what you make them. There is a full schedule of cabaret, children’s entertainment and disco’s late into the night. But with the park barely full and a lot of older people enjoying the early season peace and quiet the night time entertainment was lacking in atmosphere despite the hard work and enthusiasm of the entertainment team. Instead, we stayed until nine each night so that Oliver could see and join in with the kids show before passing through the fun-zone on the way home. The fun-zone is an area which consists of all manner of arcade games, penny machines and slot machines. If you were lucky, or spent a rather large amount of money all your game winnings were converted into tickets which pumped out of the machine bases in return for a prize which you exchanged at the kiosk. Despite Stephanie’s unbelievably lucky jackpot win on a penny machine which she would never repeat again even if she played until she was a hundred, we ended the week with a paltry 300 tickets. Enough for a small rubber insect, creature type thing the glows when you shake it, scant reward in the end for all the investment we put in!

Whilst others partied, or sat and watched football in the bar, or had an early night in the caravan, we, once Oliver was tucked up in bed, would get the cards out, as would the tea and coffees and Pat’s home baked biscuits for sustenance - who said that we lead exotic lives?

Feeding Swans at Abbotsbury Swannery

With the evenings being low key affairs we were afforded more time in the mornings to pack a picnic, have a hearty breakfast and plan for the full day ahead.

Our last full day in Weymouth and there was still plenty for us to do, it was just a matter of finding something suitable for all of us. Luckily, we chose right again and visited Abbotsbury. A little village towards the northernmost point of Chesil beach. Here they had a children’s farm, which gave Oliver a chance to get up close and personal with a varied range of farm animals. It was another place, like Monkey World that had a children’s play area bringing his unique slide count up into double figures.

Although the farm was good fun, it was only part of a potential three stop itinerary, second on the list was the Abbotsbury Swannery, unique in global terms for being the only place that you can walk through a colony of nesting swans. It was also another piece of well organised planning that saw us arriving on the stroke of midday, feeding time, which allowed Oliver and the other young children present the chance to feed the masses of swans on the freshwater lagoon. It is actually a sight worth seeing, you lose count how many birds there actually are and that they are so beautiful to begin makes it that extra special.

We decided that the third attraction on the Abbotsbury passport we’d miss out, the gardens, which would only be ruined by Oliver trampling over the well manicured flower beds and other exotic shrubs. Instead we travelled along the coastal road to Bridport, stopping once again on the opposite end of Chesil Beach for our picnic before heading on again.

Chesil Beach

Now, not so long ago I wrote about Follow that Fire Engine and their epic road trip and how there are famed and respected roads that evoke a romantic notion of the all classical road trip. The B1357 from Weymouth to Bridport would not have looked out of place on any part of their epic journey. Meandering up and down, through trees, fields and blind summits, whilst the view of the sea is always on your left, or right depending on the direction of travel. At certain points you’ll be going up hill to come to a layby at the top. It’s always worth pulling in for a look as you’ll certainly never be disappointed. The below image is a small version of a panorama I took at the top of one such hill. Click on it for a high-res colour version which will give you a much better understanding of the scenery which we tried to absorb and take in.

Click for high-res version

Five days is never enough time for a break away, but you’ll be surprised how much you can squeeze in with a bit of planning and common sense. We wanted to visit Paultons Park, the latest big thing in the UK theme park industry with their new Peppa Pig land for the children. But rather than waste valuable fuel travelling too and from the park from Weymouth we decided to stop off on the way home instead.

After a big build up before hand “Oliver! We are going to see where Peppa Pig lives” it ended up being somewhat of an anti-climax. On arrival at the park, we walked in the direction of Peppa Pig and all of her friends, but stopped off to ride some of the other attractions beforehand. Some of these were quite adventurous, especially for Oliver who has been growing in confidence on a daily basis. By the time he had arrived on his first Peppa Pig attraction he was asking to get off before it had finished as it was “boring”! Which sums up really what Peppa Pig world is all about. It is really beautifully done and the land looks bright, appealing and there are a good range of attractions, but for a four year old boy, the attractions were a little too tame. Maybe they would have suited him more twelve months ago, but kids are braver than we sometimes give them credit for.

I started this blog by stating how sometimes we get bogged down in the monotony of our surroundings and don’t see them for what they are. Familiarity breeds contempt and all of the usual cliches apply. Far flung holiday destinations are all fine and well, they give you life experiences and the weather is nearly always guaranteed to be good. But a lesson that Stephanie and I learnt is that is possible to have a great time, on a modest budget and give Oliver a chance to do some new and exciting things.

Pauntons Park

A final word if I may, to my in-laws, Pat and Colin. A thank you for the invite, for allowing me in particular to relive some childhood memories, to be a kid again and for letting me share some of those memories with Oliver, whilst of course creating plenty of new ones. A great break isn’t all about the destination and the weather, it’s about the people too - until next year!

* If you are on Facebook, you can see some more colour photos of trip here and here.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Once in a Blue Moon

Manchester City vs Gillingham

Next weekend the FA Cup final will be contested at Wembley stadium, the home of football, the closing chapter of another dramatic season of English league football. The trophy will be awarded to the winner of either Stoke City or Manchester City, two teams that I have no real association with other than the last time Manchester City played a final at Wembley it was against my Gillingham team, managed at the time by Tony Pulis, ironically now in charge of Stoke City, which brings to life a wonderfully scripted sub-plot to what is already an intriguing game.

Since Stoke City reached the final, blog posts and online analysis have focused on Tony Pulis, that day at Wembley and a recent interview on the BBC Sport website revealed some insight into the thoughts of the man and what it would be like to avenge that day nearly 12 years ago.

Feeling nostalgic comes naturally to me, particularly when looking back at Gillingham Football Club’s finest ever moment. That game, Gillingham vs Manchester City was played at the old Wembley Stadium on 30th May 1999. A game that any person within the stadium that day will forever remember. Tony Pulis led us out to battle knowing that this was to be his last game as Gillingham manager whatever the result after an acrimonious falling out with club chairman Paul Scally, unknown to us supporters cheering on from the stands that day.

But my own story starts earlier that season, when dreams of a playoff place were just beginning. My friend Stuart and I made our way to Maine Road, the spiritual home of Manchester City, their previous stadium. We went by train to Manchester to see Gillingham play a “massive” club, a team we’d only seen play on the television and was the away game highlight of our season.

I’d taken with us my bible, a book for away supporters, how to get there, where to drink and where to find a decent pre-match pie. But we felt the book got it wrong that day. We found the pub we’d picked out, slap bang in the middle of Moss Side, a notorious working class housing estate of which the stadium was nestled slap bang in the middle. It’s notoriety was probably exaggerated, but as two 19 year old boys we weren’t to know any different.

We sat in the pub, jackets done up, colours hidden, keeping ourselves to ourselves. We were sat next to two tough looking fellas who made us feel uncomfortable, but the ice broke when they asked us if we were Gillingham fans, “good to see you lads, we don’t get many away fans in here” they said, and a two hour conversation on football followed. The stand out parts of that conversation were the questions “Who are Gillingham? Where is Gillingham? And are you any good?”

If they hadn’t heard of Gillingham Football Club back then, there cannot be many a Manchester City fan who is yet to familiarise themselves with Kent’s finest. All thanks to events on that famous Wembley pitch on a miserable May Sunday late in the last millennium.

Us Gillingham supporters were just elated to have the chance to play at Wembley. Scenes at Priestfield on the final game in front of the old Rainham End were unparalleled, beating Preston North End by a single goal over two legs, scored by current Gillingham manager Andy Hessenthalter saw our club reach Wembley for the first time in our 108 year history.

The day itself, planned meticulously, was simply to get to London as earliest as possible, have a hearty full English and let the drinking commence. I’d painted my hair Gillingham blue, Stuart his scalp and Stephanie who was attending her first ever football match permitted blue streaks to cut through her blonde locks. I finished my loyal ensemble with customised flag of St George draped over my back. Oh to be nineteen again!

Manchester City vs Gillingham

Full of dreams, hopes and desires, singing loudly on the tube to Wembley reality didn’t bite until the walk up Wembley way. Down the station steps, under a bridge and Wembley, in all it’s glory placed ahead of you with thousands of fans dressed in colours walking up the greatest approach to a football stadium in the world. I never thought I’d see Gillingham at that famous old stadium and unashamedly I was hit by the emotion of the occasion and allowed a tear or two to escape. This was Gillingham Football Club, mercurial underachievers, never been outside the bottom two divisions of the English football league against Manchester City, fallen giants - there was only one team expected to win this game and it wasn’t us.

The old Wembley stadium, with it’s twin towers which stood as an icon of a thousand dreams was in need of drastic repair, it was ageing, decrepit, the ghosts of failure and glory mingled in the concourse along with the smell of burgers, piss and alcohol. There were 40,000 Gillingham fans in the stadium that day, waving flags and wearing the Gillingham blue, whilst Manchester City, exactly the same number, but decked in the famous Sky Blue that they are synonymous with. No corporate ring of reds seats around the middle of the stadium, two sets of fans, sat on wooden bench seats, miles away from the pitch with columns blocking partial views of the action.

After the first 45 minutes the score was equal, two teams testing each other out, like boxers, throwing punches but not really hurting one another. Until the unthinkable happened late in the second half, Paul Smith played the ball through to Carl Asaba and he unleashed a ferocious shot past the hapless Nicky Weaver. Pandemonium on the Gillingham side of Wembley, David had given Goliath a bloody nose and David’s supporters could smell the blood. Nine minutes were left on the clock and the ultimate dream was in sight, until, six minutes later, the ball played again to Asaba, who like a magician back-healed the ball telepathically into the path of Robert Taylor who needed no further encouragement. Bang. The ball is in the back of the net, the hearts of every Manchester City fan are in the pits of hell as the Gillingham fans go absolutely mental. I turned around to Reaso, dazed, shocked, the greatest day of my life and said “We’ll be going to places like Blackburn next season!”.

Gillingham had promotion to Division One for the first time in their history. Just three minutes of normal time remained and the party would begin. Watching the Manchester City fans at the opposite end of the stadium, some were streaking out, no instant return, the giant had been slain and it was all over for another season. But whilst there was still a pulse there was still a chance, and that pulse was given a shot of adrenaline in the 90th minute. Kevin Horlock popped up with a goal, there was a scramble to get the ball back to the middle so they could start all over again.

One man changed our destiny that day. His name was Mark Halsey, he was the referee. He was the one man in that stadium that believed their would be 5 minutes of added time. For what, we didn’t know. History doesn’t care about details, just facts. Facts that say Paul Dickov, in the dying seconds, in the 95th minute of a pulsating game pounced on a loose ball and buried it past his best friend, Gillingham goalkeeper Vince Bartram. The noise was unbelievable. The Manchester City fans couldn’t believe it, pandemonium had been replaced by delirium and the sound of 40,000 Gillingham fans howling in pain.

My greatest hour as a Gillingham fan stopped right there. The build up, the 94 minutes previously I can sit and watch, replay in my mind all day long. The rest of the game, we knew how it would go, we resigned ourselves to our fate as soon as Dickov scored. It went to extra-time, it was another goalless half hour. Penalties and Gillingham never score in normal time so why would a shootout be any different? Smith, Pennock and Butters all missed, Nicky Weaver went on a lunatic glory run around the goal and across the greyhound track to leave an abiding final image etched on the mind. That or the sound of 40,000 people singing “Blue Moon” at the tops of their voices which left the hairs standing up on the back of the neck.

Twelve years later, it still feels painful, as I’m sure it does for the players. But for Tony Pulis, the manager, in his final game as Gillingham boss, he was hurting too. That’s why I’m convinced Stoke will lift the FA Cup final next weekend. For Tony, and for all of us who were there that day.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Baby Bird - Part II

Meet Baby Bird 2

For the past thirteen weeks, Stephanie and I have been harbouring good news. I’m proud to finally announce that Stephanie is pregnant again and that come November, we’ll hopefully be celebrating the safe arrival of a long awaited brother or sister for Oliver.

As much as you try planning life’s big events, moving out, getting married, having children they do inevitably get mixed up with circumstances, uncertainties and the perennial question of “am I doing the right thing?” Making the decision to finally have a child with Stephanie after so long in courtship set off a huge chain of events that tied us to one another for the rest of our lives. This time around the decision to have another child came with a sense of freedom and an acceptance that what we was about to set off on was another journey of excitement and trepidation.

Having a child the first time around, everything is new, every day brings something different, whether it be Stephanie’s body changing in response to nature’s pre-programmed setting that creates the perfect vessel for motherhood, or the first moment you see the baby kick and the ‘bump’ starts to pulse like something from a sci-fi movie. This time we know what to expect, and far from diminishing the experience, it actually enhances it as you know what is coming up.

We’ve been asked quite a few times since we shared our news if we had a preference to gender. We’d both obviously like a girl to complete the set, one of each. But ask Oliver you’ll more than likely get a different answer (“a sister Daddy, a Boy”), who’d like a brother to play with. Stephanie has an older sister and the pair of them get on really well and are close, whereas I never had that. Me and Jessica get on really well, but there are differences between how two brothers or two sisters get on than one of each sex. Having said that, if we do have another boy there will be the inevitable question, shall we try once more for luck? The danger being that wanting a girl starts to become an obsession and the unlikely, but not unheard of event of rejecting the third child because of them not fulfilling a desire.

Last week, we met our growing child for the first time in our twelve weeks scan, the marking point at the end of the first trimester where it is suggested “safe” to inform people of your news. We had already told our close friends and family and “revealing all” via Facebook and the blog was the next logical step. Stephanie was already pregnant first time around when I started my blog back in the summer of 2006. Documenting feelings, events, things that happened became therapeutic at the time, a coping mechanism for these strange and foreign things that were happening daily around me. It’s the reason why I do this. My life isn’t exciting, I don’t have a jet set job or adulated by millions. It’s hardly the diaries of Samuel Pepys, but if I’m lucky to live to a ripe old age I can look back and remember these milestone events and how they happened, why they happened and more importantly - who they happened with.
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