Adam Bird


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Thursday, 28 August 2014

Two's Company, Three's Proud


When Stephanie and I discussed children, our magic number was always and never any more than two. We were blessed with a beautiful blue one, and a pink one completed the set. Our lives were happy and content, until a recent late night bum squeeze under the covers turned into something a little more energetic, which is where we find ourselves once again... at the beginning of another nine month long adventure.

Oliver had a code name, “Baby Bird”, Phoebe was imaginatively labelled “Baby Bird 2”. Our as yet unborn third child has been given, the (perhaps unfair) moniker of “Oops”. Which, in the event that he/she reads this in the forthcoming years is a term of endearment (we promise), but we won’t hide behind the fact that when we do eventually meet he or she, it will be behind the eyes of a blessing that we never expected.

Inevitably, I guess, when something happens that catches you by surprise is a sense of denial and perhaps a sense of regret that we’d done things differently, not at all or whilst wearing safety equipment. But I’ve always been a believer in things happening for a reason, for a purpose defined not by me but a greater force that knows the greater meaning of things and that we are to face the challenges head on and reap the rewards of successfully overcoming them.

Which is why when Stephanie told me the news the only answer I could give was a shrug of the shoulders and mutter “oops” as there wasn’t anything more I could possibly add, no consoling words would change the situation and a show of enthusiasm would have been in stark contrast to the vibe at the time. Stephanie being the more emotive of the pair of us had a moment or three and needed a period of reflection to allow the news to sink in.

During our discussions on adding to the flock we always tended to look at the negatives; less room, need for a bigger car, holidays would be too expensive, we’d be ancient and past it by the time we were grandparents, five is an odd number and other such trivialities. My belief is that our continual focus on the negatives was the cause of Stephanie's initial reaction. It wasn’t that we never not wanted another child, we had simply prepared ourselves for the probability of not having any more.

Now that we have had the time and sense to digest the news, the worse our initial reaction is beginning to look. I’ve found myself looking at Oliver and Phoebe in a different light, more closely and analysing their personalities, behaviours and achievements. Every success they have, we have that to look forward to all over again. Even the naughty and annoying things like Phoebe colouring her legs in with felt tip pens - it will happen. It will make us cross, but even writing the words brings a smile to my face as in the cold light of day its actually quite funny!

But like all great trilogies, the biggest anticipation is for the final chapter. In a funny, roundabout kind of way, I’m actually more excited about meeting Oops then I was either of the others. Oliver was new, exciting and a leap into the unknown. Phoebe was a return to familiar territory, but this time, with that sense of inevitability about the conception, the fateful sense of serendipity and the ultimate feeling of reaching a definite conclusion I can’t actually think of a better way to bring the curtain down - they’ve certainly got a lot to live up to!

Sunday, 25 May 2014

An Afternoon at the Theatre

Alice in Wonderland at Greenwich Theatre

Admittedly we are not the most cultured of families, our collective experience of the theatre amounts to a few pantomime performances and the odd West End show. So when we were offered the opportunity to visit Greenwich to watch a performance of Alice and Wonderland we set off not really knowing what to expect.

Sell a Door theatre company is a mid-scale touring theatre whose aim it is to attract young adults and teenages who wouldn’t ordinarily attend live theatre and excite them of the possibilities in which live theatre provides. Alice in Wonderland is their latest work and is running at Greenwich until the 1st June.

Yesterdays performance was the first live showing to an audience and we were invited to the preview and to enjoy the celebratory Mad Hatters tea party beforehand. The communal areas of the theatre had been decorated with props and themed around the whole Wonderland world as written by the author Lewis Carroll and brought to life in many forms of media ever since.

My two children, aged seven and two were given a fully immersive taste of the eccentric with people roaming around in full costume and a range of activities on offer. Face painting, badge making, biscuit decorating and even the bar was given a full Wonderland makeover with tasty treats such as ‘Caterpillars Cranberry Crush’ aimed at thirsty amongst us - which we all were and enjoyed thoroughly!

Before we had ventured too far into the rabbit hole it was time to grab our seats and wait curiously for curtains up, except something appeared to be missing… the curtains themselves. Sat in our seats looking down at the dimly lit stage all of the actors were already in situ, all motionless apart from the actress who was obviously playing Alice. She was sat silently on her bed reading a book and being distracted by her phone, which caused my seven year son no end of confusion, had we started or not? His question was soon answered as the lights went down and a quiet Alice launched into her first few lines, captivating us all entirely.

Now not being a theatre going connoisseur, writing a review of something that I have absolutely no authority on is a near impossible task. But what I will say is that having now witnessed a production of this scale, I have nothing but admiration for what these people do. For nearly two hours aside a short interval (where the delicious ice-cream provided much novelty for the little people), six actors stood on stage and brought to life the complexity of Lewis Carrolls much love tale. With ingenuity, stage craft and various role changes the entire production was filled with surprise and the three of us were left very much delighted.

I was concerned that it might be too long a time for my two year old to sit and watch a performance of that length, but apart from the occasional bathroom visit (she is at that age now) she sat glued to the stage pointing and commenting on various occasions whilst my seven year laughed at the required places and clapped along whenever the audience felt obliged.

If the Sell a Door theatre company has a manifesto in which to attract young adults, they’ve certainly succeeded this time around. The three of us don’t quite fulfil that category (sadly), but they’ve certainly gone a long way to attracting members of the ‘young family’ demographic. With an accessible production that doesn’t feel elitist or pretentious it ticks all the boxes any young family needs with a big emphasis firmly on fun.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Secret Testers

Secret Testers

As a child was it just me who used to devise imaginary play areas and build the world longest slide and the highest swing ever known to man? Did others dream as I did about being offered a job as a toy tester like Tom Hanks’s character did in the movie Big? No, you did too? Oh good, I’m glad about that, as that is exactly what happened to us last week!

When an old friend sent me a message via Facebook wanting to know if I was interested in taking the kids to Greenwich to test elements of a new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum I jumped at the chance. As a family we love spending time in Greenwich, there is so much to do -  we didn’t need asking twice! Besides the park, which is a global treat, you have the iconic Cutty Sark and masses of Maritime History. The Old Royal Naval College is a must see, particular for us as my Grandfather used to school there.

Also, as it was Saturday and with the wife working I invited my mother along, her foster child and for good measure my niece and nephew for company!

The mission was a simple one. The National Maritime Museum have drawn up plans for a new exhibit aimed at children under seven. They wish to spend their money wisely and so needed a group of volunteers to see some of the ideas, have a play with some prototypes and be observed on how they used them and to provide feedback as and when necessary.

For a family that like to get out and about this was very new territory for us, none of us knew what to expect. The kids, being kids and no older than seven were none the wiser and went with the moment, whilst I sat wide mouthed as the realisation that people are living out my childhood fantasy on a daily basis - and getting paid for the pleasure!

We were directed to a side room off of the main entrance to the museum and met by a lovely group of people who kindly thanked us for our time and participation. They explained to the children (and the grown-ups) the order of the day and invited us all to watch a digital fly-through of the plans for the new exhibit. Think big boats, huge shipping containers, naval history and pirates, (shiver me timbers!). Even the big kid in me couldn’t help but get excited about the ideas that have been lovingly put into place.

The video presentation was deliberately brief, young children want to play and off we went to do just that! In the next room an assortment of contraptions, presentations and tables were laid out. The girls went straight to the cooking pots and pans whilst the boys also reverted to type and headed for the cannon! The idea in mind is that part of the centerpiece of the exhibition is a pirate ship where children can fire foam balls at other pirates (not real ones of course!) and the test was to see how children managed the mechanism and how they used it. Maybe not like our children, who stuffed as many balls into the cannon as they possibly could and fired them at each others head - glady not all children are as viciously minded as ours were!

From time to time I found myself on tenterhooks as the children did childreny things. Slowly dissecting each of the exhibits into their component pieces and devising weird and wonderful alternatives of their own choosing. I found myself quietly apologising on the children’s behalf but found myself being rebuked in turn “You should be proud of having children with such wonderful imaginations” they said, which I’m certainly no stranger to myself. But I didn't have time to feel guilty, after an action packed hour it was time to walk the plank!

A sure fire test for measuring any success or failure is telling children that it is home time. If you are greeted with tears and tantrums you know you are on to a winner and with the National Maritime Museum that is exactly what it would seem.

In fact we are all desperately looking forward to returning next spring regardless and the promise of changes we might have affected is an additional draw. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see some complimentary face protectors next the cannon, or warning signs to the contrary. But whatever happens the plans that are currently under development promise to surprise and delight and as it has been tried and tested by the experts it can't fail to live up to expectations.

In the mean time, I’m off to update my CV “Attraction tester” - looks so much fun!

Monday, 10 March 2014

The Town that Time Forgot


A work colleague of mine shared her account of a weekend spent by the sea in celebration of her birthday. Whilst she recounted her various stops around East Kent the hopeless romantic in me dreamt up visions of walking along a wintry seafront with a brisk chill in the air, before warming up inside a cafe on the beach with steamed up windows and drinking hot chocolate with sticky marshmallows floating on the top. Which is exactly what we did last weekend except I left with an even bigger romantic desire than the one that lead me there in the first place.

Margate, a seaside town that evokes memories of hot summer days, childhood, sunburn and laughter. Memories of my dearly departed grandmother and my great-grandmother too, ladies who loved Margate and everything it used to stand for, namely good old-fashioned fun. I have fond recollections of riding the Scenic Railway, the Mary Rose and the Looping Star as both ladies watched on by with smiles just as big as mine.

But as time passed merrily on by, Margate for one reason or another has since fallen into disrepair. Dreamland is now nothing more than a collection of nightmares. The Scenic Railway nothing more than a charred remnant of yesteryear in the town that time seems to have totally forgotten.

Why then, of all the places available to a Kentish family looking for an afternoon out did I decide to drag us all the way to Margate? Seaside cafes are plentiful everywhere, as is this time of year the availability of a brisk chill in the air. Hot chocolate and marshmallows might be a little harder to find but the beverage doesn’t make the moment it purely enhances it. But for the very reasons above, the voyeur in me wanted to see how far the past had fallen.

And in all honesty, it has fallen horribly far, but to leave it at that would be doing a terrible disservice.

Margate hasn’t been totally forgotten, at least not entirely. It is instead very much a town of two halves. On one side of the esplanade you have the old quarter, with the imposing Turner Contemporary which has given the town a new heartbeat. And on the other, where Dreamland lies in tatters and Arlington House stands decaying as a monument to architecture gone bad is a whole swath of wasted land and opportunity.

It certainly isn’t for the want of trying. Campaigners and developers have for years been trying to resurrect Dreamland in some shape or form. Permission has been granted to breath new life into the park by restoring it to some of its former glory in the shape of a ‘retro’ theme park with other forgotten rides from obsolete parks around the UK. Plans are also in place for Arlington House, which sadly aren’t as optimistic, although as yet gratefully unfulfilled. Tesco’s want to move in, remove the tower block and concrete hub at the bottom and replace it with a seafront superstore. Arlington House may be the ugliest, misplaced building in the UK, but it is still a damn sight better than another soulless supermarket.

That promise of regeneration, the breathing of new life into old dreams is exactly where my new romantic desire lies. So saddened by what I witnessed over the weekend has made that need for an elusive EuroMillions win even more important. Imagine having a huge pot of money and a vision of something better. It’s exactly what the people behind the Dreamland project have, a vision, but the money remains desperately out of reach.

There is so much potential in Margate to make something remarkable. The old buildings that lay in gradual decay, like the Cliftonville Lido, how great could they be again with investment and a bit of love and care? They might not be used as they were originally intended, but what’s the alternative, a place that resembles the apocalypse and left to rot?

Nostalgia, dangerous in that it obscures the reality of what once was. Margate a town now in decay? The paint wasn’t exactly fresh when we went as children. It certainly wasn’t all shiny and new. But what nostalgia does do, is it fuels impetus to make change. The likelihood is, I’ll never be a EuroMillionaire and therefore I’ll never build anything that sits cloudlike in my mind. But what people like me can do, is support the right proposals and visit the places from our past. By taking small actions like buying a hot chocolate in a cafĂ© on the beach, providing valuable custom which helps keep businesses afloat. All the while there are people making a living, the town will keep on breathing. And where there is breath, there is life and when there is life, anything is possible.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Keeping Calm


When I was a kid growing up, football kind of passed me by. It wasn’t until Italia 90, Gazza and the heartbreak of Turin that the beautiful game become a conscious thing to me. I knew that my Dad went out on Saturday’s and came home smelling of beer and that sometimes his van broke down which meant he had to stay in the pub, but the association with that and football wasn’t something I remember with much clarity.

After Italia 90 things changed, I fell in love. The Gills, football and everything about the game; except one thing - I couldn’t play. Which is not true really, anyone can play, its the easiest game in the world, jumpers for goalposts, simple. I just couldn’t play very well. Once I started secondary school and saw all of the other kids running around with a ball stuck to their feet doing Cruyff turns and keepy uppies like circus seals I grew jealous and wanted to be just like them but didn’t know how. Apparently they went training and played boys football and I didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t because I wasn’t good enough. So I made a promise, “if I ever have children, they’ll learn how to play football!”

Which is where I find myself now, all these years later as a father with a young impressionable son who has shown interest in football at a much earlier age than I had. It started off with a succession of football kits as gifts from friends when he was a baby, but Oliviera Birdinho was a character, an alter ego that satisfied my own dreams of raising a prodigious footballing talent. It’s what we are generally, football supporters - we are hopeless romantics, daydreamer believers and live off an anything is possible mentality. The sky really is the limit and Roy of the Rovers is our everyday reality. One day I’ll play for England becomes one day my son will play for England and we believe in those dreams right up until the point they become hopelessly impossible which in my case, fresh from the womb.

The problem with a football supporters mentality is that it becomes easily fuelled and at the moment it is being doused in gasoline!

After a Facebook SOS for information and a quick search around Google I took Oliver along to a training session at the Northfleet Eagles. He thoroughly enjoyed himself and joined them the following day for a friendly match in which I felt that he performed quite admirably. After a couple of weeks, with him still thoroughly enthusiastic he signed up, registered with the FA and made himself available for league games.

In his first match the young lad that played in goal got an injury very early on and was replaced by Oliver who went on to make a string of fine saves and picked up the man of the match award. Every Sunday bar one he has grown stronger and stronger, more confident and playing in goal appears to come somewhat naturally to him. Some of the comments that have been made about his performances have been really encouraging and quite surreal listening to! I only wanted him to learn how to play football but instead we have a potential Harvey Lim on our hands!

Putting aside the whole fantastical element of my personality and focusing solely on my responsibilities as a father this experience has been the first of what will hopefully be many difficult choices that Stephanie and I will need to make. In this case it is a sporting talent, but what Stephanie and I need to do is somehow find ways in which that talent can be nurtured. It might be something academic, or musical, it might be Phoebe who displays a particular talent for something when she is older so the same dilemma will also apply to her.

There lies the issue, potential. What if Oliver carries on showing potential and applies hard work to training and gets to a level where he might actually be able to get somewhere with his goalkeeping? Do we put all our efforts into securing his dream - after all, it has to be his. There can be nothing worse than forcing him to chase something that is purely a figment of my imagination. Or letting the football fan in me take over and making bad decisions on his behalf.

I’ve done things in life that have made me feel proud about myself, but seeing Oliver be a success, even something as small as winning a man of the match award that level of pride for him is immeasurably stronger. If either of my children grow up to fulfil their potential in whatever field it is that they show excellence in isn’t that what our job as parent is all about?

We strive to install our values in them so that they grow up as we have done, we encourage dreams and aspirations but not force our own aspirations and dreams upon them. It sounds straight forward and it should be really. Stephanie and I haven’t been given a book to read that tells us what to do and how to bring our children up but we are working it out as we go. I wrongly believed that we’d done the hard part, the feeding, the nappies and sleepless nights, but thats nothing. Making decisions on what we believe is best for them, providing encouragement and picking them up when they fall is so much harder. But the rewards are awesome and infinitely more fulfilling.
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