Adam Bird


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Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Great Sofa Swap Saga

Sometimes, do you ever get the impression that your life is like the Truman Show, that things happen to you on purpose and would never happen to anyone else? My blog is a personal account of things that I’ve done, or things that have happened to me, stories that may have no relevance or interest to anyone else, but I make no apologies for that - it wouldn’t be a personal blog otherwise. But I wanted to share this story as it typifies the strange but true occurrences that seem to happen to me, for no apparent reason - a magnetic attraction to the strange and surreal.

Stephanie and I were given a three piece suite when we lived in our flat which belonged to the parents of my good friend Will. They were getting a new sofa after 20 years and as ours at the time where a mish-mash of things we’d found or rescued we gratefully accepted their offer of providing a home for their old furniture.

That was five years ago, and since then, we’ve moved, back to my parents old house and had a baby, which has grown up into a fidgety toddler and now a boy who likes to explore and fiddle with things, as well as a cat that likes to scratch and generally paw at anything that resembles a fabric of some kind. So our hand-me-down furniture has aged more in the last five years than the preceding twenty. We needed to get some new ones finally, despite my financial misgivings as it hasn’t been nice inviting people around to sit on sofa’s with holes in or covered up with old blankets.

On Monday past, as we knew that our new furniture was to arrive this week, Stephanie called the council and asked for them to pick up our old furniture, which they do upon request, for the sum of £20. “Yes Mrs Bird, they will be around on the 21st to pick that up for you”. Wonderful Stephanie thought, that is tomorrow, I’ll get my brother around this evening to put all the furniture outside ready for the morning.

Except, Stephanie got her days all wrong. The council were coming on the 21st, Monday was the 18th, so for three days last week, we had the unfortunate sight of a cream leather 3 seater, a 2 seater, an arm chair and a pouffe sitting out in the wind and rain, making the street look an eyesore which is made worse by the fact that our house is on an elevated position in comparison to some of our neighbours - certainly no room for camouflage or careful concealment.

We were talking at work and via facebook about similar instances of leaving furniture outside houses to be picked up, a work colleague explained how he had once put his sofa out and on his return home he found someone looking down the sides for lose change! But even so, that didn’t prepare me for what happened on Wednesday night, the night before the council were due to take our sofa’s away.

Stephanie came into the house whilst I was cooking dinner. “There are some people outside” she said “who want to take the sofa’s away - I’ve said yes, they’ve given me the £20 back what we paid the council”. And there were, believe it or not, two girls of Eastern European descent waiting for their partners/brothers, whoever they were - muscle, to carry these rain sodden sofa’s back to wherever it was they were taking them. It must have been a fair distance, because an hour or so later we got a knock on the front door. It was the two young girls again, apologising because they couldn’t get the sofas through their front door and wanted to know if they could possibly bring them back and have their £20 back! So there we were, sitting watching television on garden furniture in our lounge at 10.30 at night, watching out the window as our sofas of the past five years were walked up the road and back, one final hurrah before being mercifully crushed by the rubbish bin men the following day.

As I said at the beginning of this post, it’s one of those stories that may not mean anything to anyone else, but the idea of blogging for me, is recording what has happened at a particular moment in time. In years to come, this will still be there, looked back upon and laughed at as we remember sitting there dumbfounded by the family who obviously had nothing and the desperation that they must have been going through to carry a rain sodden, ripped old sofa goodness knows how far up the street and back again.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

A Lotto Dream, or Nightmare?

Over the past few weeks Europe has been gripped in a state of lottery fever, as the EuroMillions jackpot reached the dizzying heights of £160,000,000, sparking stampedes to the newsagents in the hunt for the elusive winning numbers. On Wednesday night, that jackpot after 14 consecutive rollovers was won, by a Scottish couple from Falkirk, who stated upon winning “The next steps are going to be the most difficult... with great wealth comes great responsibility”.

It would take an average man, on an average salary of £30,000, thirty three years to earn £1,000,000 and 536 years to earn the figures won by the aforementioned Scottish couple from Falkirk, so you can understand quite easily why people are in such a frenzy buying tickets to earn such a fortune.

Stephanie and I have been playing the lottery for nearly two years, two pound a week, same line, same numbers, same result - nothing! We have won £10 once in the entire time, which came with much fanfare only two weeks ago. We had started to think that the numbers were cursed, or the lottery website was ignoring us. But nonetheless, winning the lottery would change our lives, but would it actually change it for the better? If we’d have won that EuroMillions jackpot, what would we have done with vast amounts of money?

We could leave it in the bank, live our normal lives, pay ourselves the same monthly salary but not have to go to work for the rest of our lives and let subsequent generations do the same until the pot runs dry. Or we could create our own lottery by picking 160 friends from our Facebook list and give them a million pound each, which would be a two finger salute to any strange Auntie who had decided to block us. We could put Oliver in private school and give him the greatest education money could buy, with external tutorship so he can learn languages and play the piano, drums or guitar. We could travel the world during the school holidays, spending lazy summers on a Greek, Pacific or Caribbean island. I could spend half of the winnings on Gillingham Football Club and wipe out the clubs debts, help them get promotion to the Premier League on a tide of money built upon weak foundations. We could build the ultimate mansion in the Kent countryside with roller coasters in bedrooms and water slides that put Disney to shame. We could become space tourists in one of Richard Branson’s intergalactic spaceships or emigrate to Australia and live out our days by the beach.

But then, that’s the fantasy of it all isn’t it? The reality I’m sure is far different, real money, real choices. How much do you give to your siblings, are we being too generous, or will they still think we’re being tight? Do we give to Aunties and Uncles who we never see, but to the friends that we do? Do we give it to both, just because we can? Do we give money to a person we know would probably use it drink him/herself to death, or walk away from their family on the back of their new found wealth? Who gave us the right to make those kinds of choices? What charities to we donate to, the ones closest to us, or the most poignant? How do we say no to an opportunity knowing that we have such wealth behind us? Will putting the children through private education detract them from the reality of the lives we faced growing up, the not getting everything we asked from Father Christmas, the holiday’s to Wales and Scotland that we loved and enjoyed, but overlooked now that the money has made the world our oyster?

So that quote again, at the press conference, “The next steps are going to be the most difficult... with great wealth comes great responsibility” - rings so true, and if you think about it, would winning such money actually make your life any richer?

If I have ambitions to want to be able to write, I need to look at people at their circumstances, how their characters react to the changes around them. How would one person cope with a death of a loved one, or how would they cope with an unexpected windfall?

The reality, at least for us, is that it doesn’t really matter, because however much we play, the odds are against us. It has never, or will never happen to us - but we can still dream can’t we?

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Babies, Games, Birthday's and A Persian Flavoured Wedding

Generally speaking Stephanie and I don’t have wonderfully exciting lives. We go to work, come home, have dinner and veg out on the sofa, watch a film together or maybe I’ll retire to the other room and spend an unhealthy amount of time on the Interwebs, writing another incessant rambling piece which passes as my blog whilst Stephanie watches a gruesome documentary about murder and it’s ensuing investigation. It has then, for the past week been something of a nice change to the usual routine with some days out, new experiences and the pleasurable involvement of somebody elses very special day.

Last weekend, Friday, it all kicked off with the archibald ingall stretton... away day. The first Friday of July is declared an official work bank holiday, in that the whole agency disappear somewhere together and come back the following day feeling rather worse for wear. More specifically, a rather beautiful house in the rolling hills of the Oxfordshire Cotsworlds, near the market town of Bicester. Middle Aston House played host this year, whilst the archibald ingall stretton... staff indulged upon drinking and whiling away the afternoon with football, cricket, touch rugby and the more sedate but aggressively combative croquet. Despite a stray baton during softball, which hit the poor head of User Experience firmly on the head, causing a delay in play and a rather large lump on her forehead which meant she had to rest up and spend the rest of the afternoon with an ice-pack for company. Away day’s are rarely uneventful occasions, which proved to be the case with one of the digital designers having to have the alcohol, sorry blood that was seeping out of his foot after accidentally treading on a broken bottle, patched up in a late night visited to Accident and Emergency whilst the rest of the agency continued to drink the bar dry and dance along to a late night selection of disco music.

Whilst I was away in the heart of the Oxfordshire countryside, Gillingham Football Club decided to announce a whole host of new signings which was further supplemented on the following Monday with a seventh, Charlie Lee, bringing an unsteady and unfamiliar breath of confidence over us long suffering supporters. Clearly easily excited, Reaso and I got in contact and decided that there was only one thing for it. We’d have to travel after work to Ashford and see the Gills in action during their very first pre-season friendly. There is something very unique about the lower-league football supporter, they tend to be a loyal breed, most of it is misplaced, but when you find yourself in the middle of a field on a Wednesday night with 1,000 other possibly deluded supporters, you cannot help but feel part of something very special. As it was, for the sake of prosperity, Gillingham fielded two teams of equal ability, one in each half and won comfortably 3-0 over an Ashford United side that were playing their first ever competitive match (previous incumbents Ashford Town went bust at the end of last season), in a stadium that consisted of one single stand, a rather large area around the pitch that was marked out with a fence that supporters could mill around quite happily, either on the touchline or under either cowshed that was situation behind either goal. Sound idyllic? Indeed it was.

The following day, something else entirely different and of infinite more significance. An appointment at the hospital where we were due our second scan, the one that’s due in or around the twentieth week, the magical scan where they can more or less be 100% certain about the sex of your baby.

Stephanie and I have been in much deliberation, “to know, or not to know”, that really has been the question. Stephanie, for practical and pragmatic purposes wants to know whilst I, quite simply don’t. I remember the exact moment that Oliver was born, that magical split second in time that the nurse had lifted him up and away from us to the resuscitation area where they had to work on him for a short, terrifying few moments. Within that moment of transit, all I could see was his little body and the revealing of his appendage that let us know finally what out first child was to be. With that in mind and my own insistence that each child gets treated exactly the same I ‘d rather not know. I want that special revelation all over again, which brings with it that first unique bond with your just born baby which I believe would be desensitised if I was to find out now.

So there we have it, still a surprise for the next few months at least. But the good news, is that for the real reason of the scan, confirmation everything measures well, and there are no underlying medical issues that we are aware of and so we can head towards the final trimester with the hope and excitement of the previous two.

With everything safe and well, Stephanie and I were able to look forward to a busy weekend whilst showing off scan pictures and the answering of “do you know what you are having?” questions. The only thing that could spoil my happiness did spoil my happiness when ten minutes before we were due to leave the house on Saturday morning for a wedding. After my suit had been carefully ironed after it’s long hibernation, I put it on in readiness to leave the house. However, in the subsequent space of however long it’s been since I wore it last, I have grown - considerably it would appear. With no suit to wear, I had to rustle up a shirt and trouser combination from the bottom of my wardrobe, which made me feel entirely uncomfortable for the rest of the day.

If my discomfort was distracting it didn’t spoil what was to be a lovely day and a great wedding, which for the family was a actually a huge pleasure to have been invited. After working in Iran, Dad kept in contact with a colleague he worked with at the time, a lady by the name of Noush who now lives in the UK and has met and fallen in love with an English guy named Rob. It was actually quite touching to hear her speak during the speeches about how the Bird family have welcomed her and been a help to her since she arrived in the country, which I attribute entirely to my Dad. Despite the differences in cultures it felt like a true Great British wedding with a vicar, a beautiful bride looking elegant in white with a jolly good knees up afterwards - even if the food was a lot nicer with meats and salads of Persian origin that did nothing to help me increasing waist line.

If Dad occasionally gives us reason to feel proud of him, for reasons we least expect, it was perfect opportunity the following day to show our gratitude as he’d reached the milestone birthday of fifty. Around my parents house we all converged to enjoy a lazy afternoon in the garden enjoying a hog-roast that had been cooking slowly for most of the day, a DJ arrived and parked up in the corner playing a mixture of music that provided a perfect soundtrack to the beers and wines that were drunk and conversations that kept the afternoon flying on by. Glyn and Shona, long time friends of the family arrived with a Pinata that provided my personal highlight of the afternoon. All the children lining up patiently to beat the poor thing with a stick aiming to crack it open for the sweets inside. All the kids took a leisurely thwack except for Indigo who had been saving all her rage, all her angst and all of her effort to take it out upon the poor, unsuspecting Pinata, which she swung at with all her might... and missed, oh how we laughed!

If the past week has been a social exception to the rule, there are always the things that normally happen around the house to keep us on a normal footing, such as this past week, we’ve been trying to keep Oliver dry of a night and out of pyjama nappies. We knew that this path would be full of little accidents so as an incentive we suggested to Oliver that if he made it five nights in a row with a dry nappy we would buy him a Ben 10 watch, something he’d wanted since he lost the last Ben 10 watch he’d had. Four nights all ticked off and congratulations all round, Oliver was desperately looking forward to his new watch, which explains why on the fifth day we were woken up to an inconsolable little boy who’d had an accident in the night. He broke our heart with the tears and attempted explanation that he couldn’t quite get out, which is why we are not firm disciplinarians and a hunt for a new watch goes on as we speak!

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Gardening Gripes

There are chores that we have to do, there’s no escaping them. Washing up, hoovering, laundry and putting out the rubbish, they all need to be done. There are some chores, that don’t need to be done quite so often, but are actually quite enjoyable, so you don’t mind doing them and quite happy finish them off with a smile on your face. Then there is gardening. The worst chore known to man.

My main gripe about gardening, apart from the million little things that fly around annoying me, in some cases putting the fear of God into me, is that none of the machinery is actually very good. Ok, so I’m not going to go out and invest in a hi-tech combine harvester type mower as advertised by Forrest Gump, but if I spend £100 on a mower, I’d expect it to at least mow. Rather than me having to go around the garden six times to get every stray blade of grass and random weed that refuses to meets its inevitable demise. But by far the biggest and singularly most annoying thing, not just in gardening, but possible the entire universe is the strimmer. Because mowers cannot quite mow right to the edges, you need an extra piece of equipment to get everything looking nice and trim. So what invariably happens is that you plug the strimmer in, walk over to the edge of the lawn, press the start button, wave the strimmer over the stray grass before cutting. At this point, any random stone gets in the way, flies up and into your shins, causing gashes of varying severity. But then, just as soon as you’ve screamed “ouch”, the strimmer starts wailing a horrible high pitched screeching as if it is itself in pain and not you. This signals that the wire underneath the strimmer has snapped off. So you go, to the plug, remove it for safety reasons, go back to the strimmer which is at the end of the garden and reinsert the cord so it can now slice more stray grass and slam yet more stones into your shins. The whole sorry process is then repeated, depending upon the size of your garden, once every meter or so, which in our case is extremely fortunate as our garden isn’t very large!

Which is why, when it comes to our own garden I tackle any routine chores with the most displeasure. We have, what is supposed to be a lawn in our back garden, which with many thanks to Colin, my father in law - looks quite nice framed with the fences panels that he kindly painted and a couple of little rock formations to the right hand side and to the rear, until on closer inspection you realise that the ground is bumpy and that the grass is losing it’s battle for supremacy with the well loved and respected weed.

Birdseye view of the garden

Before this summer, that’s all we had, along with a washing line that ran through the middle of the garden, that didn’t quite rise up and down like it was supposed to, until Stephanie decided that Oliver needed to have an eight foot trampoline, which was ‘bargain of the century’ from a one off sale at Asda. “Cool!” said Oliver, “Boo” said Daddy. As the logistical nightmare became a reality upon completion of the assembled trampoline. One small garden, one large trampoline. Didn’t and hasn’t really worked.

So I had to take the line down, and replace it with a rather more functional rotary line (at yet more expense) and attempt to make the trampoline as level as I possibly could, which has subsequently proved to be a little more difficult. I had been at a happy medium all the time that the trampoline was in use and the garden didn’t have me in it. But everytime I’ve mowed the lawn since, I’ve had to try and fight my way around and under the trampoline. Something had to give. And it did, quite spectacularly.

I realised that the get the trampoline level, I had to dig a bit of a hole. But I needed some place to put any unneeded soil. I could dispose of it, but the thought of filling up another endless number of soil bags, as we did with our front garden a couple of years ago was too much to bare. So I decided there and then, that we would be having a raised bed which we would attempt to grow vegetables in! I am sure that you are as suprised at the juxtaposition as I am!

Which is why, over the past two weekends I have been digging, relocating pathways, constructing temporary retaining boxes and blistering my office sensitive hands into smithereens! I may hate gardening above all else and all the things that annoy me, but I’m actually looking quite forward to seeing how this pans out, if we can actually grow a decent crop in our own little patch. But the important thing here, is that we get the chance to involve Oliver and the new baby when he/she is old enough. Show them were food comes from and how long it takes to grow, which is probably worth the gashed shins and constant gardening gripes. Isn’t it?

Slave labour!
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