Category Archives: Family Life

Introducing Flo

At about this time last year, I wrote about the psychological warfare that was being waged against me by my wife and daughter in pursuit of their goal of securing agreement to us buying a dog. It was a carefully orchestrated campaign, and one that led to a final, grudging acknowledgement that a dog might be a good thing for us to own at some future point.

Fast forward twelve months, and I am delighted to confirm that my resolve has held firm. We still don’t have a dog. We are though, some four months into a house share with a far more manipulative addition to the family.

Introducing Flo.

Flo (or Florence to give her her full name) is a British Blue, a short hair breed that loses very little hair and so meets the dual test for any four legged incomer to this house : maximum cuteness and minimum stimulation of allergic reaction!

It’s fair to say that Flo pretty much now rules our house in a way that I would have thought unthinkable when we first brought her home. She spent the first two hours with us hiding under the sideboard in the living room but she has definitely found her feet since. There is literally nowhere that is now out of bounds to her.

I’ll be honest, I never considered myself to the sort of person who’d end up with part-ownership of a cat. Having been allergic to fur since childhood, even spending time in a house where there’s a cat usually leads to much sneezing and wheezing. I’d looked on cats as being somewhat aloof. However, I’m increasingly coning around to the idea that you don’t really ever own a cat. Rather, the cat becomes the centre of the home, deigning to all you to share her space – but always on her terms. Jean Cocteau describes this co-existence perfectly : “I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.”

However, it is H.P. Lovecraft who perhaps best sums up what it is to share your life with a cat : “In its flawless grace and superior self-sufficiency I have seen a symbol of the perfect beauty and bland impersonality of the universe itself, objectively considered, and in its air of silent mystery there resides for me all the wonder and fascination of the unknown.”

In case it’s not already abundantly clear, I’m smitten with our kitten!

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International Men’s Day

It’s International Men’s Day today, apparently. This is a new one on me, but it has been running on 19th November annually for a number of years now. In the UK, the focus is on promoting male health and wellbeing, and in particular mental wellbeing, with a focus on the high rates of male suicide, and promotion of support services available to men. Whether there’s really a need for an International Men’s Day in a world where – for the most part – men’s rights are rarely subject to the same abuses as those suffered  by women, is a highly debateable point. However, I guess that any opportunity to highlight the range of services available to men (and women) to support mental health ought to be applauded.

At a much more trivial level, International Men’s Day this year coincides with a day off work unwell for me. I have contracted that vicious and virulent disease – man flu. It strikes indiscriminately and knocks victims for six, leading to long periods of self-pity, and consumption of large quantities of paracetamol and Covonia cough medicine. I have spent much of the day putting my affairs in order, and if there’s no blog tomorrow, you’ll know what’s happened…

Diversion Therapy

Let’s be honest, there’s not much to be happy about in the news at the moment. It’s Sunday. The sun is shining (at least in Cardiff) and I’m going down with a cold (it’s probably flu but I’ll get no sympathy here). I need a bit of cheering up, so I’ve trawled the internet to find some reasons to be cheerful.

First up, this story about the mysterious malfunctioning of a car park barrier in a North Yorkshire country park. When staff opened up the workings to try to find out what the problem was, they discovered this little character curled up fast asleep inside.

wood mouse

Keep the noise down!

The wood mouse was carefully removed and returned to a safer (and more natural) setting, although presumably one without the added attraction of CPU powered central heating!

Next up, this wonderful story of a Japanese museum that has been running a two year cat-and-mouse (ahem!) battle to keep two cats out of the building. We have recently begun sharing our house with a cat of our own (and no – I can’t believe I just wrote that either!), but I can vouch for the fact that once a feline has set their sights on something, no amount of gentle admonition or cajoling will deter them from their path! There’s no doubt that Flo (our cat) will make an appearance in this blog at some point before the end of the month. In the meantime, I commend Ken-chan and Go-chan on their resilience and determination; and also the museum that’s spotted the commercial opportunities in the story and gone with them full-tilt!

Finally – news of a dream job for anyone who – like me – prefers the trimmings to the turkey on Christmas day. A Manchester pub is looking for somebody to taste-test the chef’s novel twists on pigs in blankets – the sausage-wrapped-in-bacon accompaniment to turkey. Now I don’t know what Christmas dinner is like in your house, but we can’t cook enough pigs in blankets in this house to meet the demand on the day (and then as snacks for at least the three days following). The amazing this about the Manchester job opportunity is that, not only do you get to try out these amazing savoury snacks, but they’ll also pay you £500 for the privilege. The only drawback? You have to be a Manchester resident to be considered for the job.

Have a lovely Sunday, dear Reader – and try to find the sunshine amongst the gloom of today’s main news stories!

An easy one today – my dad’s birthday

Today is my dad’s 80th birthday. I read back over the post that I published here on the occasion of his 75th birthday in 2013, and to be honest, it still holds absolutely true. Dad has had a tough few years health-wise, but he has borne all that has been thrown at him with typical fortitude and the unfailing support of my mum. I have cut and pasted the post from 5 years’ ago for today’s contribution with immense pride and absolutely no regrets. Happy birthday dad – still my hero.

Tuesday 12th November 2013 is a landmark date for our family. It’s my dad’s seventy-fifth birthday, and this blog (on the eve of that momentous achievement) is dedicated to him.
My dad is my hero. This is something that I’ve never said to him (to be honest, neither of us is very good at talking about that sort of thing), but I am so proud of him that I hope he’ll forgive the embarrassment that reading this will cause him. I also hope that he’ll understand that I am writing this as a tribute to the man he is because it’s really important to me that he understands how I feel now. Life really is too short to leave these things until it’s too late. So – sorry dad – but you definitely deserve this
The concept of “the hero” has arguably lost some of its value in recent years, with sporting performance being described as “heroic”, and moderately talented pop-stars acquiring “hero-status” with their juvenile fans. But my dad is a hero in the traditional, classical sense : “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his… noble qualities” (dictionary.reference.com definition).
Paradoxically, my earliest memories of my dad are linked to the fact that he wasn’t there! This is not because he had abandoned us, but rather because he had made the decision to train as a social worker, and was completing his Certificate of Qualification in Social Work at Aston University, Birmingham. This involved leaving Cardiff each Sunday evening and returning each Friday for the duration of the course, living in digs in Birmingham during the week. None of this had been in the original plan. My dad is the eldest child of a large family that was living in Splott, literally in the shadow of the steelworks, when my paternal grandfather passed away. It was at this point that my dad assumed responsibility as the main breadwinner for the family, leaving school and taking a job in the steelworks as a teenager.
During this time, my dad was also regularly attending the Bridgend Street Methodist Mission, effectively a place of worship and local community centre all rolled into one. It was here that my dad met my mum (her dad and grandfather were instrumental in setting up and running the Mission throughout this period, but that story is for another time). The ‘Mish’ (as it is was affectionately known then) provided my dad with access to the two great passions in his life (in addition to my mum of course!) – namely, his Christian faith and football. I have only very vague memories of watching my dad playing football, and they are all centred around a period towards the end of his career when he turned out for Bridgend Street and we would go to see him on the ‘hallowed turf’ of Splott Park. Before that, though, he had played in the South Wales Amateur League for Cardiff Cosmos, and was feared and respected in equal measure as a tenacious, skilful and prodigiously quick centre forward who belied his slight stature and possessed an almost gazelle-like ability to spring into the air to win headers against much taller centre halves.
It was during his time as a member of the youth club at Bridgend Street, and then having graduated into a leader role, that my dad felt that he was being called to the Ministry and set about preparing to put that call to the test. He became a Methodist lay preacher, taking services around Cardiff and further afield, at a time when transport involved buses, trains or – if feasible – Shanks’ pony. Eventually, he secured an interview for a place at Cliff College where he hoped to be accepted to train as a Methodist minister. The panel that interviewed him decided that full time Ministry was not the right path for my dad, an aberration that I have no doubt that they would put right without so much as a second thought with the benefit of hindsight. However, the Methodist church’s paid ministerial loss was definitely social work’s gain.
It’s impossible to know what our lives would have been like had dad been accepted into the full-time Ministry, but I know one thing for absolute certain – I wouldn’t change a thing. Throughout the whole period of my childhood, my mum and dad worked incredibly hard to give their three boys the best possible start in life. As well as working full time in a variety of social work and probation roles in the Cardiff area, my dad also worked two evenings a week as a Youth Club leader in Llanrumney, and ran Youth Centre football teams on a Saturday morning and afternoon. Neither social work nor youth work were particularly profitable occupations in the 1960s and 1970s, but we never went without. Looking back, I’m still not quite sure how my parents managed it, and I’m sure that there must have been many occasions when they weren’t quite sure how they were going to do it either, but none of us ever missed an opportunity to go on school trips, take part in sporting or musical activities, or otherwise take advantage of whatever was available to us at the time.
Having initially started his social work career in the probation service, my dad’s work saw him moving up through the ranks via posts as a Prison Welfare Officer in Cardiff Prison, a hospital social worker responsible for patients with spinal injuries at Cardiff Royal Infirmary, and on into Team Leader and senior management roles in the Vale of Glamorgan, north Cardiff and finally at County Hall. Along the way, he completed a BA (Hons), part time, at the University of South Wales, graduating in the late 1980s; and throughout all this, he continued as a Methodist lay preacher and was a Deacon at Christchurch United Church in Llanedeyrn (where we had moved into a new house in the mid-1970s).
So far, so factual (or at least, it’s how I recall it, and any errors of fact are entirely my own). But in and of itself, none of this really justifies the ‘hero’ tag. That stems much more from who my dad is, rather than what he has done. I cannot recall a single instance of my dad losing his temper with us as children – even though we must have driven him nearly to distraction on many occasions. He always seems to be so in control, so calm, so measured. “Slow to anger” could have been written for my dad, but that should not be confused with any lack of determination or weak-will. Once his mind is made up, there is little that will divert my dad from his chosen path – evidenced by his completion of the inaugural Cardiff Marathon in appalling weather conditions. I like to think that some of my dad’s sense of fair play and sympathy for the underdog has rubbed off on me too, but I am under no illusions that I have a long way to go before I can claim to be in his league. Even now, at 75 years old, he will be completing his stint at the Foodbank later this week, helping to provide a vital and increasingly busy lifeline to those who are literally destitute.
I have so much to thank my dad for – for always being there when I have needed his advice, support and wise counsel; for being prepared to not be there in order to complete his training for a career that would enable him to give us a better start in life than he had been able to enjoy; for being such a superb role model as a husband, father, and man; for simply being there when words were not needed.

Happy birthday, dad; and thanks – this one’s for you…

Counting my lucky stars

I know it’s not the first time it’s been said, and I’m sure that it won’t be the last, but my goodness, we are so lucky in this country to be able to call on the National Health Service when we need it.

Today, I have seen the Service at its very best. From the receptionist who greeted us with a smile and friendly efficiency at 7am; through the nursing staff on the day unit; to the anaesthetist and surgeon who took the time to explain everything meticulously and answer my questions; the ODPs who prepped me for surgery; the recovery nurse who gently brought me back around; to the physiotherapists who managed not to smile at my total lack of co-ordination when learning to manage the stairs on crutches. Every single person was a credit to their profession, to the hospital at Llandough, and to the National Health Service that is truly the first among equals in the provision of comprehensive healthcare that is free at the point of delivery.

I’m home again now following my operation. My knee is bandaged but effectively pain-free and I am benefitting from equally wonderful care in the community courtesy of C. and J. (to whom, enormous thanks and love).

I have my exercises to complete over the next few weeks as rehabilitation kicks in, and I’m really looking forward to getting back to something like normal again very soon.

In the meantime, I am counting my lucky stars – every single member of the team at Cardiff & Vale Orthopaedic Centre – and I’m incredibly grateful to them all.

Knee-ly there!

It’s pretty much a year to the day since I noticed a pain in my knee following a packed train journey from Birmingham to Bristol. Having initially ignored it, then forlornly hoped that it would fix itself, I was finally forced to seek medical advice when the pain became unbearable. Two visits to clinic, the removal of what seemed like a gallon of fluid from the knee joint, and an MRI later, I was added to the list of patients waiting for key-hole surgery to tidy up the cartilage. Yesterday morning, I got the call to say that a last minute slot had become available for tomorrow morning and could I be at the hospital for 7am. I didn’t need asking twice.

The fact that this has happened during the blogging marathon that is November is a double-edged sword. On the plus side, it will provide material for posts today and tomorrow (at least), and possible one or two more as the month progresses and I complete the post-operative rehabilitation (my plan is to be back completing parkrun before Christmas!). However, it does mean that I’ll be posting tomorrow still under effects of the general anaesthetic that I will have received in the morning.

It seems only right therefore, to apologise in advance for whatever inane drivel emerges from my drug-addled brain tomorrow evening. Those of a nervous disposition may want to give the blog a swerve for the next 48 hours!

No matter how old they are, they’re still your children…

From time to time, the RSPCA in the UK runs a seasonal advertising campaign reminding parents considering buying a new puppy that a dog is for life, not just for Christmas. The warning is clear that the new life that you are considering bringing into the home will still need to be cared for and loved long after the novelty of new-puppy ownership has worn off. I’m coming to the conclusion that similar warnings should be an integral part of new parent classes!

By rights, the calls on my time from my kids should be few and far between by now. They’re both holding down responsible jobs, interacting with members of the public going through often stressful or traumatic experiences, and using their initiative to find solutions to complex problems. By all accounts, they’re both good at what they do, and are progressing well in their roles. I’m incredibly proud of them.

And yet, still, despite all evidence to the contrary, there are times when each behaves as though they are as independent as the puppy in the RSPCA advert. And so it was last night, at 10pm, I found myself picking my way through the human wreckage that is Cardiff City Centre on the evening after an international rugby match, to pick up my tired and emotional child and an equally tired and emotional friend, and deliver them to their respective homes. The declarations of eternal gratitude and appreciation were no less heartfelt for the knowledge that they would be totally forgotten by this morning!

On the plus side, I did get some McDonalds chicken nuggets and fries for my trouble, when having purchased them, my child promptly fell fast asleep on getting inside the house.

And of course, I was really happy that both the kids still feel able to call when they need a hand. I hope that that never changes!