Adam Bird


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Friday, 24 August 2012

A Trial Separation

Gillingham Football Club

Last weekend Gillingham Football Club kicked off the new football season with a home game against Bradford City. It was the first time in... well, perhaps ever, I wasn’t there to see the start of a new campaign. In fact, as much as it pains me to say, it was the first time in twelve years that I began the football season as a non season ticket holder.

The past few seasons have been a difficult time for us Gillingham fans. The reappointment of Andy Hessenthaler after the shambles that was our relegation season was a move aimed to rebuild the fans relationship with its players after deteriorating so badly under previous manager Mark Stimson. But ultimately, it was the wrong move as time and time again the players at the managers disposal were not playing to their full potential and two eighth place finishes meant that once again Gillingham Football Club found themselves looking for a new manager during the close season.

It would be easy for me to turn around and say that on the field failures were the reason for my non-renewal, but it would be far from the truth. Our failure to gain promotion has made my decision a lot easier to handle, but the simple fact of the matter is, something had to give.

Stephanie, now we have exhausted her statutory maternity leave is back at work and will be working Saturday shifts when available to help bring in more finance. Having to find someone to look after both Oliver and Phoebe every other Saturday it becomes an effort to make necessary arrangements, as well as putting on people who help us out during the week whilst we are at work.

Having said that, ticket prices for children under sixteen were remarkably good value with a season ticket for Oliver, if I chose to buy one would cost just £50. But as yet, he hasn’t shown any real desire or wish to want to come with me week in week out. Meaning we’d only need help with Phoebe, but by the time I get home from work she is in bed, I get up to go to work she is asleep and I don’t want to be the strange man she sees only on Sundays.

The plan is by no means to stop going altogether, I couldn’t turn my back completely on the team that I love so much and have grown up with all my life. Every Saturday Stephanie isn’t working I’ll go to the game and take Oliver with me. It might even allow me to visit more away grounds and reach the elusive 92 club which I’ve stood stuck on 52 for so long.

If the team finally does get that elusive promotion back to league one which we’ve all craved for so long, I’ll be over the moon. If it means that they do it and I’ve missed out on certain victories and last minute winners, it won’t really matter, not compared to the alternative - missing out on my children growing up.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Center Parcs!

The Bird Family at Center Parcs

As way of a thank you for the work that I did earlier this year for King’s Church Medway, Stephanie, Oliver, Phoebe and I were invited to join the church on their annual summer holiday to Center Parcs. Which is where we spent the past week wearing ourselves out surrounded by woodland, nature and fine company.

Center Parcs is one of those places that I always wanted to visit as a child, a seemingly magical, exciting place with water slides and activities galore. So when Uncle Matthew invited us along, I was happy to accept - rest assured that it wouldn’t be all “kumbaya” around the campfire (his words not mine!) We were to share a cabin with my cousin Rebecca, her husband James, their two children and Ricky, my soon to be cousin-in-law which helped as we would be sharing with people we knew and not complete strangers.

In fact, it wasn’t just my cousin Rebecca and my Uncle Matthew who would be going on the holiday, my Auntie Mara, Auntie Mandy, Uncle Tubby, cousins Amy and Victoria, their husbands and children would all be going too! Perfect opportunity for Oliver and Phoebe to get to know their cousins better and for me to catch up with family that have for whatever reason been so distant for most of my adult life.

Rebecca and James are Center Parcs veterans, having been previously on at least four occasions, so we had heard lots of good things before we had even left. But upon arrival I was left feeling quite disappointed. We were staying in a comfort villa, which is the basic level of accommodation and was as described. Very basic, with a pungent smell of dampness in the air and the interior looking rather worn and threadbare. Added to this the price of food and drink at the village complex I did begin to wonder just what the fuss was all about.

It wasn’t until we had all unpacked, the cars had been moved back to the carpark and we had a chance to explore our immediate surroundings that it all kind of made sense. Peeking out of the patio doors of the villa lounge, we could see two rabbits sittings on the grass just beyond the small patio. Alongside them were a handful of squirrels which were racing up the tall trees that blanketed our view to the rear. Scenes which more than made up for any minor cosmetic discomfort that we might have first found.

Prior to dinner on our first night, Oliver and I head off towards the main attraction, the subtropical paradise which is the Center Parcs piece de resistance. Oliver had been wanting to show off his newly found swimming skills for the previous three months, so now he finally had the chance to show me - whereas I just wanted to find the slides and relive part of my youth! After a quick dip in the main pool where Oliver swam slightly, but rather nervously, I suggested that we take a walk around and see what we could find. Our first stop was the ‘white slide’ which is pretty self explanatory. A dual, short, steep slide that plunges you into the water below - right up my street. I said to Oliver that I would go first, before catching him at the bottom when it was his turn. Off I went, creating a small tidal wave which rippled around the subtropical paradise, before waiting eagerly for Oliver below. Except his courage deserted him and he couldn’t bring himself to plummet down as I just had. Instead I had to get out and meet him, tell him not to worry and that we would find something more suitable instead.

Our next stop was the toddler pool which contained two rather tame slides indeed. I sat waiting impatiently in two inches of water whilst he ran around having the time of his life, feeling guilty as I pondered my next move. Rather than continue sitting where I was, I called Oliver over and suggested we continue our walk around, which fortunately he agreed to. We walked around and found two flumes, which varied in levels of excitement. I started him off with the smaller one, where we went down together, before returning and going down individually, building up his confidence and proving to him that he did have the courage and that nothing could go wrong.

After the flumes had been conquered Oliver wanted to take on the white slide once again, so that’s where we headed and as before I launched myself down creating another huge wave and waited anxiously at the bottom. Oliver confronted his initial fear head on sliding downwards and with a splash I caught him, already jumping up and down with excitement at how much fun he’d just had! After another seven visits to the same slide even I began to lack enthusiasm, plus we had a dinner date back home to return to and so we kept our first visit to the pool short and sweet.

Stephanie and I had a rather late night that first night, talking with Ricky until 3am about a whole manner of things, evolution, creation, weddings, relationships and the Big Man, who Stephanie and I were quite open about not having what everyone we shared with had - a relationship with Him. I was a bit worried before we went that we were seen as being ripe for ‘conversion’ and that we would be listening to people constantly trying to evangelize but other than that conversation with Ricky, which Stephanie and I instigated there was nothing of the sort.

In hindsight, three o’clock in the morning is not a suitable hour for bedtime at Center Parcs, particularly as the little man had his first activity booked for 9am! Fortunately for me, but not so for him, his first football training class was cancelled due to insufficient numbers. He didn’t seem to mind too much, which was fine with me as I went out for a quick twenty minute run instead. It was quite nice, despite the rain running through the trees of the complex along the ring road that was void of cars - the only traffic being people on bicycles, which there were hundreds and more hazardous than any motorcar would have been!

As football was cancelled, we busied ourselves around the complex looking at things that were going on. Auntie Mandy and Uncle Matthew had booked a badminton court and invited Stephanie and I along to play. Oliver was playing with the other kids and Phoebe was enjoying her morning nap, so why not we thought! Sadly, I haven’t played badminton since I was at school and was never particularly any good at it then. But between the four of us we had a good laugh and a good workout which is all that matters even if the skill levels were a little bit to be desired!

It isn’t just indoor sports and pursuits that Center Parcs caters for. There are hundreds of things to book and do outside, including a whole load of watersports and activities which take part on the lake, which is where we head for next. Rebecca had arranged for her Dad (my Uncle Tubby) to have a go on the cable ski, which is a mechanical contraption that allows multiple people to attempt a turn at waterskiing on the lake without the need of a motorboat. There were quite a few of us watching on the banks of the lake that afternoon, but along came Tubby, resplendent in a rubbery, black wet-suit carrying a knee board for which he was attempting to surf. We all waited with baited breath as he readied himself on the edge of the little pontoon, arms out gripping onto the handle which in a moment would fire up and drag him furiously around the lake. And then suddenly it did, off he went to a chorus of whoops and cheers and almost right away to a deafening chuckle as he went crashing into the lake with flailing limbs and an almighty splash! Uncle Tubby might not have gotten very far on his first attempt, but on each subsequent turn he got further and further around the lake to cheers from us standing along the side. It looked great fun, something I’d definitely have a go myself if we ever went back!

Time certainly flies at Center Parcs with so much to do and take part in. After the excitement at the lake Oliver had his first class, “Little Outlaws”, which was basically a junior version of archery, with plastic bow and arrows made with velcro tips. Likewise a day later, another class, allowed Oliver to fire mini crossbows, again made of plastic with velcro tips so that they stuck to the velcro covered targets. Oliver really enjoyed both classes, but as a grown-up I’d suggest that for the age group they cater for, a little more ‘serious’ equipment could be used instead.

Other than those two classes, the only other thing we had booked Oliver in for was the soccer school which gladly resumed as normal on the Wednesday and Thursday. I’ve long given up in the hope that Oliver may one day play for England, let alone Gillingham and seeing Oliver in action over the course of the two sessions nothing has changed my mind. We did have one rather noteworthy incident at the end of the first session. The whole group, including the Dad’s were split into two teams, greens and reds for a match. The ball finally made its way to Oliver who was in acres of space. He controlled it well, turned rather smartly and with no one around him he unleashed a hell of a shot that left the (grownup) goalkeeper well and truly beaten. Except rather then cheers, his goal was met with groans and ‘oh my God’s.’ Oliver had scored one of the most spectacular own goals I’d ever seen! He knew straight away what he had done and walked off the pitch in a state of upset. I walked off with him in embarrassment telling him that it didn’t really matter, accidents happen and that there was only one way to make up for it. Go up the other end and score twice! Despite my encouragement and gentle persuasion Oliver was too upset to continue which began to annoy me. I didn’t mind him making a mistake, but what I did mind was that he threw in the towel, walked off and left his team with a man down. But we live and learn I guess! After all, he played again the following day and was one of the better players which more than made up for the day before!

With all sorts of things happening left right and centre, it wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon that we made it back to the pool. This time, we had Stephanie and Phoebe with us, plus all the family were already there, which allowed everyone some quality time on the slides as we all took it in turns looking after the little ones. Rebecca and Uncle Matthew had been talking about the rapids and how wonderful they were, but I hadn’t come across them on my first visit. I hadn’t really looked too hard as I had Oliver with me and didn’t think he’d be allowed on them, but upon finding them that Wednesday afternoon and with some further advice from Rebecca we decided to give it go, with Oliver firmly attached!

Basically, the rapids is a long waterslide that starts off outside the building, meanders through the grounds before dipping sharply back inside and dropping you into a pool at the bottom. All the way along the course you are carried by a surge of rampaging water that is artificially pumped to form a whitewater effect - to much fun and hilarity! Sadly, my youthful exuberance was too much for my ageing body and I fear that I may have cracked a rib. Wanting to go that ever bit faster I decided to stand up and dive down the rapid chute giving myself some extra momentum, but in that act, I must have landed wrongly, or on something and caused a pain on my left hand side that still hurts even now! For the rest of the day I had to walk with my hand nursing my side and whenever I sneezed, coughed or hiccoughed for the next week a shooting pain would stab me from the inside causing me to wince and grimace in pain!

However, cracked rib aside, traversing the rapids with Oliver attached was at first quite worrying, seeing grown men bombing down out of control, people crashing into one another is one thing. A body of surging water and the early stages of being able to swim is another. But as on the first visit to the pool where Oliver’s confidence grew, it was the same over the course of the final three visits to the pool. On day one Oliver would be gripping me around the neck and holding on for dear life, by the end of day three Oliver was swimming up to the entrance of the rapids and throwing himself down on his own as one of us swam manically after him! Someone once said it to me and it was a great piece of advice “teach your kids to swim at a young age,” - so very, very true!

If we wanted to, we could have stayed in the subtropical paradise all day, everyday. But there was so much going on. Over the course of the five days we had played table tennis, soft tennis, racquetball, badminton, pool, american pool, football, archery, crossbows and mini-golf.

In fact, I wasn’t going to mention the mini-golf as I’m still terribly sore about the whole episode, but Rebecca went to such lengths to organise the whole the event that it would be quite rude of me not to.

Amongst all of the things available at Center Parcs, there is also a nine hole mini-golf course. Rebecca had arranged a tournament for the family and so we all met on an island in the middle of the lake, me feeling quite confident that this was one the sport I might actually be good at. Except, evidently I wasn’t! After nine holes, bottom of the pile, twelfth place... was me! In first place, to add salt into the wounds was... Stephanie! She even won a trophy which Rebecca had brought and now sits tauntingly on our mantelpiece at home. In my defense, I blame the course and unprecedented bad luck...

Okay, so I might not have fulfilled my potential but we all had fun and a right good time, which is the most important thing. In fact the mini-golf summed up the Center Parcs experience for me. A group of people, having fun, a laugh, all different sporting abilities and interests by joining in on a level playing field where the result didn’t really matter after all, as that’s what it is all about. Fun and enjoyment. We do take things too seriously sometimes, sport, people, religion, one another. It’s good to enjoy life with a smile for a while and realise that it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day - life is fun, let’s make the most of it!

On our final day, before making our way back home we decided to have one last session in the pool and another few hundred rides down the rapids and my particular favourite, the white slide. I am a speed and splash man when it comes to waterslides and is probably the reason why I broke a few rules along the way. One of those was the strict feet first rule on the white slide. Just when the lifeguard at the bottom was looking away, off I went, head first down the slide before skimming across the water and crashing into the barrier at the end! When it was Olivers turn I was still catching him, but hadn’t banked on him a) copying me and b) skimming across the water as I had. So that after he had taken his first bounce across the surface his head and my head collided rather painfully. His eye and my nose! Ouch, did I nearly cry or what?! I hadn’t quite broken it, luckily, but have spent the past week with a disfigured nose which seems to have settled back down again now - and fortunately for Oliver, his threatened black eye didn’t ever materialise which would have only accentuated my guilt even more!

So there we have it, a week at Center Parcs! Battered, bruised and broken!

We had heard so many good things about it and everything was true. It might be expensive in the village, incredibly so, but done correctly you need not eat out, there isn’t much to do of a night and the best nights we had were the nights we spent in. Everything else, the activities are all good value and worth every penny.

Ultimately, we were invited to spend time with King’s Church Medway on their church holiday. But it wasn’t, not really, it was more like a time from years ago when we were kids spending time with our cousins and having a laugh and fun with it, when we were allowed to just get on and have a good time without whatever it was that we believed in getting in the way.

From Stephanie, Oliver, Phoebe and I, a huge thank you to Uncle Matthew and Auntie Mara for allowing us to spend last week with you and to Rebecca for all of the effort you put in to make it extra special!
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