Parenting as An Act of Blind Faith

A lot of my homeys are having babies.

When I say homeys, I mean fellow men. I suppose they’re not having babies exactly, women have babies, men become fathers. At around one in the afternoon on the first Wednesday of December, my brother became a father for the first time. Seeing someone so close to me go through something so heavy is very hard to describe, harder still to understand.


To say it was amazing is a waste of a word, I haven’t really digested it yet. For him it was so heavy it was overwhelming, for my folks and me it was overwhelmingly joyous, but it was also a reminder about how little any human being really knows about anything.

Especially the serious stuff.

My contemporaries going through the process of having kids is for me the most clear-cut sign of how everyone is styling every single thing out to the Nth degree. No-one knows what they’re doing. They just pretend they do. I wrote once about how my parents didn’t have a clue what they were doing when they got married. Yet somehow they’re still together.


Seeing the expression on my brother’s face in the hospital room hours after he became a father was a reminder that most of the time in life, you have to make a decision and then adapt to the results. That’s the reality. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and step out into the abyss with nothing but blind faith to hold your hand.

Which is scary as hell, but not nearly as scary as doing the opposite. Making no decision at all. The sinister place Dr Seuss called…

The Waiting Place

So plunge into the decision we do.

Does it get any easier. Two award-winning docs following my man Guy the process of becoming a pop paint the same bleak picture, and would suggest that no, no it doesn’t get any easier whatsoever.

But obviously having a child is far from bleak, that wasn’t my point. The reason I started this post talking about homeys is because it concerns the male response to parenthood. Like much of life, females have a head start on us, being that they are more involved in the natural side of the world. Pregnancy for men is pretty abstract, I mean they go through none of the hormonal fireworks associated with the mother, they hear about cravings and feign a raised eyebrow and mumble something like… vanilla ice cream again, how interesting.


Post-birth they also find themselves at the shallow end of the utility-pool, because they don’t have breasts. Turns out breast-feeding is about more than just nutrition. It’s skin to skin contact, eye to eye gaze, the rocking is an embodiment of rhythm, it forms the beginning of the establishment of the relationship. And breast-feeding even produces children with higher IQs. But pops miss out on all of this. Instead they look on quizzically, pretend to be taking it in, and then balls up the first 53 nappy changes.

A new father would be much better placed to tell you this stuff. But in his defence, while some women don’t feel maternal at all, the maternal instincts of some men are off the charts. Shortly after Mary was born, my father described how he saw my brother connecting to her with a type of totally animal intuition, emanating from both his heart and his body. Maybe men with more evolved emotional centres find a way of connecting with their newborns in a way other men find harder, I don’t know.

My brother said he always wanted to have a girl.

He says right at the beginning the idea freaked him out. But when they found out pretty early on in the pregnancy that she was going to be a she, he said he much preferred the idea. He’d heard about how men have more issues with boys, how a daughter is the apple of her father’s eye. I also have a sneaking suspicion that, more so than a boy, he felt like a daughter would be more of a protector, and my brother quite likes company.

I don’t have a girlfriend and with one sorry exception I can’t remember the last time I went on a date, so I’m pretty far from the following predicament. But personally, the idea of being a father to a daughter makes me really quite scared, like almost queasy. And try as I might i can’t get to the bottom of it. I have a feeling the reason is a bit more complex than sports, something a little deeper than Peter Griffin’s moment of dawning realisation in the maternity ward.

I think it’s to do with how little I understand women.

Add in some Freudian stuff, sprinkled with my belief in the matriarchal setup of the world, that how contrary to our delusions women run things, they control everything, but at a much deeper level than equal pay etc. Nature is female, women carry life inside them, men are tools, that kind of thing. And the weird idea that this figure of dominance, this embodiment of feminine power, would be so tiny and helpless but I think just pretending to be, doesn’t convince me at all. Perhaps it’s something to do with that thing that we never really escape the womb. Despite what we might think, we’re all kinda still in there.

Like Hesse’s quote about trees rustling.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear the trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, the longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home.


*

There’s a French-Canadian film called The Barbarian Invasions. About a man diagnosed with a terminal illness, and it follows the last few months of his life surrounded by his family and his mistresses. It’s a serious film, heart-breaking but also hilarious. There’s a scene right at the end, where our man close to his deathbed, when he receives a satellite video message from his daughter, who is on a boat stranded out in the Southern ocean, unable to get back to him, knowing she will never get the chance to see him again. It’s a goodbye.

When casting the role of the daughter, who appears just once in the whole film in this scene, the actress Isabelle Blais recorded herself doing a read-through and sent it by email to the director Denys Arcand. He recounts that when he saw it for the first time, he broke down, sobbing uncontrollably. And once he’d recovered, he called her to say the part was hers.

It’s been too long since I last saw you. My daddy. My papuschka. I’ll have missed you my whole life. Tell yourself that I’m a happy woman. That I’ve found my place. I don’t know how you did it, but you managed to pass on your lust for life, you and Mum raised incredibly strong children. It’s a miracle really.

And then she goes big.

It never really fails to reduce me to a blubbering wreck.

It’s basically the opposite of Peter Griffin in the maternity ward. It made me think the real reason why I’m so scared of having a baby girl one day, that perhaps I wouldn’t think twice about were it not a girl, is that the stakes are too high.


There’s something about the bond between a father and a daughter that sits right at the top of the cake. You don’t mess with it. Like, what is stronger in human nature than that. Her looking up at him, him looking back down at her. It’s different to father-son, it’s more hardcore it seems to me, it might be the single most precious dynamic that exists. And so perhaps rightly so, it scares the life out of me.


I think I’m afraid my hypothetical daughter would see right through me. She’d realise what a deficient human being I am, erring and bumbling and messing things up. And what’s more she’d be female. Those strange beings I uphold as dominant to men in almost every way. I couldn’t hide from her.


*

My mate Alfie has a five year old daughter called Iris. He told me the other day that although he didn’t think he would be the type of person to admit this, Iris is his best mate in the whole world. He says he tells her all the time. And he said if it came down to it, he’d hang out with her above anyone else.

He also said this.

Whatever veiled moments of glory life might throw our way from time to time, they sure as hell won’t come about as a result of inaction. Life demands that we live it forward. This whole thing about my friends becoming parents being an act of blind faith, seeing my brother with Mary and the emotions she’s brought him even just over the course of the five short weeks of her life so far, me freaking out about the idea of being a dad to a little girl one day, they’re all examples of the same thing.


We have this idea that we need to believe something strongly before we decide to do it. But actually much of the time, what we need to do is act. And then figure out what the hell is going on, while we go. Like Douglas Adams’ character Dirk Gently says in The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul…


I may not have gone where I intended to go.


*


 But I think I have ended up where I needed to be.

The Song We Sing For The Old

At the end of 21 Grams there’s a Sean Penn monologue about the weight of the human soul. Which starts with the line.


How many lives do we live. How many times do we die.

Watch it, it’s beautiful.

With the exception of light at the end of the tunnel experiences spoken from hospital beds, or coffins with scratched ceilings, or reincarnation, I think we must only die once. In terms of the heart stopping and the soul escaping and the flesh rotting. The dust to dust idea.

I’ve always been drawn to things that we can’t understand or explain, maybe for the reason that we can’t understand or explain them, and up until recently when it came to the idea of the next chapter I was happy to sit on the fence with the sun on my face dangling my legs in the late-afternoon breeze. But strangely, these days I find it hard to believe in an after-life.

I think I agree with Bertrand Russell.

When I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive.

But why should we have the arrogance to assume that only logic and science within the spectrum of human understanding is what is actually out there. There is an argument for the existence of God based on ants. It runs that if ants can walk the earth in their billions unaware of the existence of us, the self-styled omnipotent species of earth, then equally why should it not be possible that something greater than us should exist outside the spectrum of our own understanding.

It’s a question that has polarised humanity’s best minds. One of my most rational friends and father of three months Gregory Kennaugh from Putney believes that we must hang around in some form or other after the landlord finally kicks us out into the cold. Einstein was a fan of mystery too. This coming from a man the sum-total of whose credibility rested on nothing less than absolute conclusive proof.

I know one thing. That at some point in the future, certainly bedecked in boxfresh AF1s…

I will wax from the pulpit about the certainty of an after-life.


*

The after-life quandary is just an example of how our opinions on things change in relation to the different stages we are at in our lives. Anyone who has reread old diary entries and looked perplexed as they see a page written in their own hand-writing, spewing forth thoughts that could never possibly have come from their mind, will acknowledge how much our brain can change. Not just a particular opinion. But a complete outlook.


Just as spring eventually loosens winter’s grip and autumn pulls down the blinds on long heady summers, over the course of our life we will encounter change, not just from the outside but from within. Right now, despite its insistence on remaining tediously cold, spring is changing everything in our natural environment. There is a continent-wide shift in play.

We too are the trees through the seasons.

The trees themselves, their whole entity, they don’t change. But over the years their trunks will morph and fatten, their branches will grow out in different patterns shaped by the wind, they might be felled in storms or pruned by zealous park-keepers, and every year their leaves will spring and bask and die and fall. The trees are always changing, yet somehow aren’t.


I think it works as a metaphor for how we as people change. Those who maintain that people never fundamentally change are both right and wrong. Like the trees we are capable of change and yet incapable of it. We are the tree, but we are also its morphing trunk and falling leaves. And just like the tree, our lives are made up of seasons.

The Wonder Years was great because it pitched the idea of simultaneous time. The mature narrator, speaking to us from inside the mind of a teenage Kevin, was a reminder that time doesn’t have to be linear, that the different stages of our life are interconnected and playing out simultaneously.

I’m reminded almost every day how connected I am to the six year old inside me. I’m looking out for him all the time, I’m still fighting his battles, I still feel his pain. If I stretch my imagination I am also connected to the 75yr old in me. He’s studying me quizzically right now by the fire in his carpet slippers, watching as my actions and today’s life choices form the tapestry of the life he has to look back on.

Old age is staring me in the face in a more real way too. In the form of two of the people closest to me in the world. As my parents move towards the music and take the floor in a slow-dance with their mortality, I realise they haven’t changed. They’re still the same children whose blurred photographs stare back at me from old photo albums, the same expressions of joy or boredom or surprise spread across their faces.


They mean the world to me because I love them. But to the outside world they’re anonymous people in the autumn of their lives. There’s an old lady in my local Tesco who regularly holds up the supermarket queue to talk to the cashier, much to the ire of the line groaning under the weight of their baskets. But it could be the only conversation this lady has all day. She might have lost a few braincells, but she was also probably the matriarch of a large family. In her prime she had guys queueing round the block just to speak to her. She has seen all of life. She demands our respect.


*

Same as Alf, regardless of where he posts his letters.

Old people are us. Because one day, we’ll be them. If we don’t respect them we disrespect ourselves. And the cycle of life that we are involved in. I wonder if this trigger-happiness to dehumanise the old is something we need to start checking ourselves for. Why should it take a leap of imagination to think of old people as young once? Is it not all part of the same grand arc of life. Just as the leaf grows hesitantly out of the branch, dances for a while in the summer breeze before turning brown and falling to the ground. Alf could tell you that.

Funnily enough Alf is the lead character in all of this. I’d send him a letter, but I’m not sure he’d know how to return it. Oscar Wilde said that the tragedy of old age was not that one was old, but that one was young. Alf is all of us, by reminding us that one day we will be just like him. We are all connected. Young and old are all the same.


This doesn’t change because we sprout nose hairs or start to feel the force of gravity weigh more heavily on us. It doesn’t change because the distance to our feet can feel unbreachable when the time comes to put our socks on. It doesn’t change because we post all our letters in the dog poo box. We’ll still feel the same inside as we did when our bodies worked without a second thought. Our parents would be the first to tell us that.


*

At the end of Prufrock, a 22 year old T S Eliot writes from the perspective of a man both looking back on his life, whilst wondering what old age might bring.

I grow old… I grow old…
I shall wear the bottom of my trouser’s rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.


*

We can start singing, even if the mermaids won’t.


We can at least remind ourselves to from time to time.

Love Eventually In The Arrival Lounge of T5

I can’t believe there is a human on this earth whose heart doesn’t start beating in double-time as they walk through the doors into an arrivals lounge of an airport, clinging to the hope that someone might be there waiting for them.


Even if not a soul on the planet has any way of knowing you’re even on the flight, there is a part of you that holds out hope the love of your life will be standing there expectantly with open arms. I’m basically alluding to females, but family I suppose would do. Besides, if you’re a parent the love of your life basically is your kids. Either way there are worse places to be. There’s a lot of goodness and happiness and beautiful human emotion at play.


When’s the last time you watched Love Actually. The end credits are a montage of these exact moments.

So with this in mind, off went my alarm at 4.30am, and as the sun rose reluctantly to thaw an especially butt-cold morning of spring, I roused myself from slumber and picked my way through empty streets and across London to Paddington. After six months in Argentina, my old man was returning to his adopted country. His flight was landing at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 at 6.25am and a strong pang of filial duty was going to have me there, a smiling face in an indifferent crowd, awaiting with open arms. So we too could share in a Love Actually moment.


I had money on the fact that this show of filial devotion was gonna make my old man’s year. I did some maths and figured that a 6.25am landing time, factoring in passports and baggage-reclaim and all that stuff, meant I could confidently take my place at the barrier around 7am. I arrived at three minutes to seven precisely.

The place seemed strangely deserted.

So I waited.

And as I waited, all around me I saw beautiful scenes emerging. People reunited with their loved ones. All colours and creeds, of all ages, locked in passionate embraces, happy to be together again. All of a sudden life became so simple. Love was the starring role.


Three generations of an Indian family in a rugby-scrum of affection. A mother back from some exotic land being smothered, literally throttled, by her two young daughters, as their father looked on smiling sleepily. A woman bounding up to her ageing father, of such beauty, that in the blinking of an eye I’d imagined our life together and was thinking up subjects with which to seduce my new father-in-law the moment she introduced us.

But no sign of pops.

The information board told me his plane had landed slightly earlier, at 6.17am. And as the second hand ticked on, I furrowed my brow and attempted some more maths. It was nearing 7.30am, over an hour since he landed. But T5 is massive, I thought, and with respect my old man is no Linford Christie, not after two hip operations and six months of fine argentine cuisine. Something must’ve been holding him up.

Something, or someone.

I did some more thinking. He hates other people, he hates flying, he loathes airports, odds-on he’d be marching through passport control with a scowl of unabated black-thunder etched onto his face. Marry that with his insistence on wearing dark glasses and a panama hat at all times, his not-unnoticeable latin-infused english accent, and he’d comfortably take his place on any FBI’s most-wanted list. I mean, of course he got stopped.


I then smiled at the thought that even if he was packing 23 kilos of uncut Colombian, stopping papa on the back end of a 14 hour flight, in his least-favourite environment, having just touched down in a country he doesn’t even want to be in, with the moods he’s capable of mustering, and the scenes he’s capable of making, it was resoundingly in Customs’ best-interests to leave that man alone.

On I waited.


I took some dope selfies.


I did some more maths.


It was now past 8am, and still T5 remained papa-less.


I wondered if he’d even got on the plane.

It was when fifteen rowdy Hasidic Jews came through the double-doors barking yiddish, and looking up I saw a flight from Tel–Aviv that had landed over an hour after the one from Buenos Aires, that by now no longer even featured on the information board, that I admitted defeat. My watch read 8.17am.

If my old man had spent two hours in between landing and arrivals and was only coming through now, he’d most likely be absolutely livid. And I’d be damned if I was going to wait around for that shit-storm. I shrugged my shoulders and thought of that line from Alien, in space no-one can hear you scream, and how it had no relevance whatsoever to the present moment.

So I lensed a final selfie, as proof of my heroic odyssey, and bailed.

Sitting there on the train rolling back into central London, I thought about plane travel, and how although our horizons would obviously be much narrower without it, maybe this ability to fly all over the earth wasn’t necessarily that healthy. That perhaps planes had messed something up in some way. The slickness of T5 had definitely messed my shit up, I remember a time when getting from the cabin-doors to the arrivals lounge was the work of two hours, easy. Now an irate Argentine nursing a couple of titanium balls for hips can motor through in under 30 minutes.

It made me sad.

Because at the end of it all, life is made up of moments. And the heightened emotions attached to these moments. The time you first set eyes on the love of your life. Your first pinger. Your child’s first steps. To a lesser extent, the time your son comes to meet you at the airport unexpectedly at 7am on the morning of some idle Thursday, and you ride into town together in a cab and shoot the breeze.


The precise moments I saw unfolding between strangers as I waited for my old man to wheel his trolley through the double-doors. But he never did. Nevertheless, being a witness to these moments and their warmth was plenishment for the soul. It was a reminder that the really truly important things in life aren’t that many in number. There’s really just one of them.

The old L word.


It was a reminder to go and put the old L word into practice.


And hurry up doing it.

No One Knows Anything Ever

I read something recently which stayed in my head.

Showing people photos of your children is not asking for their honest opinion.

I’ve found this to be the case. I don’t think many of us really care. Not after the first photo, which everyone displays a certain curiosity to see, to see if the baby is normal-looking and doesn’t look possessed and looks vaguely like both parents. Louis CK has a segment saying something similar.

Hypocritical of me then, to write something consisting exclusively of photos of a kind not that removed from the one so far maligned; photos of my parents on the day of their wedding. Photos that tick the same boxes you could argue, photos of people beloved to you, but of no great interest to those whose attention you’re so fervently drawing them to.

But I can justify the below. To start with, photos of the past are more interesting than photos of some unformed future. Which is essentially what photos of kids are, representations of some unclear, little-formed, unpleasantly snot-strewn future.

Secondly, if it wasn’t for the day represented below, I wouldn’t be here, and you wouldn’t be reading this. So the below relates to you too. The third reason is that it’s topical. My parents got married thirty five years ago yesterday.

They made a swanky photo album.

My mother.

My Argentine cousins dressed as gauchos.

My grandfather looking pretty 19th Century.

My mother levitating.

The vicar looking like a character from Tintin.

Papa pleased because he made the papers.

My Argentine grandparents looking fly.

Only eyes for one.

My mother having regrets.

Papa getting his gurn on.

The best man.

The Holy Trinity.

Welcome to the faaaamily.

Father and daughter.

Speeches that evening.

My cousin’s thank you letter.

*

But there’s another reason that these photos are interesting to me. And that’s because recently more than a few of my friends, contemporaries, people I’ve grown up with and known for a decade-plus, have done exactly the same thing as my parents did that day. Get married. And now more than a few of them are having babies. Which is where the showing people photos of your kids diatribe came from.

But the one common denominator in all of this is that not one of them, not from where I was standing, knew a thing about what they were doing. Getting married, getting pregnant, having babies, watching them grow, no-one has the faintest idea what they’re up to. They just style it out. Which is why digging up old photos of a wedding that happened thirty-five years, demanded I reframe my understanding of them.

Where before these faded photographs showed me a man and a woman going through the perfectly rehearsed motions of something they were always meant to do, something predestined, I think differently now.

From seeing my friends fumble and err and style it all out, I realise my parents were none the wiser either. The photos above are documents of this. They didn’t have a clue. At no point throughout any of the day documented above did they know either what they were up to, or what they were letting themselves in for. Growing up we think our parents have all the answers.

They don’t. And we won’t. I assume things will never really make sense. I suppose we begin to care less about understanding nothing.

A Sunset My Brother and Wayne Rooney

In a tense Euro quarter-final in 2004 at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, midway through the first half after a tackle from Jorge Andrade, an 18yr old Wayne Rooney, the star of the tournament, went down holding his foot. He was stretchered off with a broken metatarsal, and England went on to lose on penalties.

Some time not long after still in the middle of that long hot summer, my brother Miguel was on holiday with his then girlfriend in Barbados, soaking in the sand and surf and the palm leaves swaying drunkenly in the sea breeze. Just him, her, and a professional photographer tailing their every move.

Upon his return he told me about his trip. And proffered me some fraternal words of advice:

Mate.

Should you ever find yourself on a Caribbean island, perhaps in the company of a lady friend, perhaps in a romantic capacity, and walking together hand in hand along the golden sands, perhaps you stumble upon a beach bar pumping the latest in dancehall and soca riddimz out across the turquoise waters, and looking into each other’s eyes life suddenly seems to make a whole lot of sense, then good on you. But please. Under no circumstances, repeat no circumstances – attempt to hit the dancefloor.

But why? I asked.

Bajans come out of the womb dancing to soca bro. You don’t stand a chance. Your girlfriend will want to spend the rest of her days in the shade of the drunken palms making mixed-race babies, you’ll be emasculated and feel like a royal asshole, without any doubt you’ll look like one, and you and your girlfriend will have a barney that will have you trudging down the beach, alone, cursing the name Charles D. Lewis under your breath with all the mercury-bubbling wrath of hell’s flames.


*


N E V E R T H E L E S S

As my man Alfie – who has devised to teach his 3 year old daughter Iris ancient philosophy through the medium of Pixar – recently reminded me, Kungfu Panda drops an atom bomb of Stoicism in the 3rd instalment of the eponymously-named legendary trilogy.

One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.


*

Which rung especially true for my brother that afternoon. Walking off down the beach misanthropically kicking a football, a desultory shell of his former-self, he stumbles across none other than, aforementioned broken metatarsal protected in a cast, bedecked in some oustanding beach wear, taking some well earned respite from Coleen, and probably from being the most talked about 18 year old on the planet.

With Coleen nowhere in sight, and Miguel’s girlfriend busy getting schooled in the art of dancefloor seduction by seven Bajans, they bust back to my brother’s beach-hut, spend the afternoon hoovering uncut Colombian, and my brother introduces young Wayne to the delights of on-line gambling.

A Bunch of Stuff Your Uncle Can Teach You

We all wonder Who is God? What’s going to happen when we die. I don’t think it’s ever… nothing. I’m very fond of Lucretius. And Lucretius says that everything is a little energy. You go back and you’re these little bits of energy and pretty soon you’re something else. Now that’s a continuance. It’s not the one we think of when we’re talking about the golden streets and the hierarchy of angels. Even angels have a hierarchy. But it’s something quite wonderful. Everything is mortal. It dies. But its parts don’t die. Its parts become something else. And we know that when we bury a dog in the garden with a rose bush on top of it, there is replenishment.

And that is pretty amazing.

 That was an excerpt from an interview with the poet Mary Oliver.

*

The Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park in the South Island of New Zealand is famous for it’s lack of light pollution. Like the Atacama in Chile people travel from far and wide to come and see the starscapes. On my recent trip there, an English guy called Sean drew me a map by hand and said to me if you’re ever venturing that way or passing along that particular road, take this map with you and go and find the X that marks the spot. A couple of weeks later I took him up on it. I hooked a right off the main road onto a dirt track and cycled for an hour along a slight incline, following the road along a river valley surrounded on either side by vast looming mountains.

The map told me to bridge two streams, and just before the third to cut right and pass through a gate onto a cattle track. Hide your bike somewhere and pack what you need for one night in a dry bag, food, clothes etc. Make sure it’s a dry bag because you’re going to have to ford a waist-high river. I packed what I thought I might need, hid my bike in a thicket, waded across the river, and climbed up into the hills following an ever-disappearing and reappearing track, all the time clutching at this piece of paper where Sean had marked out in biro the contours of the hills from memory. For three hours I walked, moving what I hoped was closer to the X, the subject of his map.

I moved into a whole new valley, a plateau I had no idea existed since it was invisible from the spot where I’d left my bike. As I walked the sense of isolation became like an adrenalin inside me, purely by dint of how alarming it felt to feel so alone and so small, wandering amidst a landscape made for giants. Tracing my way along a rocky outcrop to my left handside I heard the sound of cascading water from a stream, and finally laid eyes on Sean’s fabled X.

It was an old mustering hut from the 1870s, a place of refuge for the cattle and sheep farmers during the long winters spent moving their animals around in search of greener pastures. Inside were three bunks, a table with two stools, and a map on the wall, and the names of previous travellers scribbled into the wooden beams and the walls of corrugated iron. I dumped my stuff, went on a walk up to the highest point I could see, washed in the stream, ran around buttnaked for a little while for good measure, ate a couple of sandwiches I’d picked up at a petrol station that morning, and got into my sleeping bag.

At 2am my phone alarm went off. I woke up, put my jacket and shorts and beanie on and walked outside. Squinting my eyes half-shut, I laid down by the stream, put my head back on the grass and, stretching my arms and legs out into a starshape, opened my eyes. I’ve never seen so many stars in my life.

The constellations I was semi-familiar with were completely invisible, indistinguishable from the gazillions of their new neighbours that had apparently been there all along, but yet had only just now magically appeared to me. It was as if God himself had picked up a huge fistful of sherbert and summoning his best curve-ball had launched it at the night sky. I felt the surge of a strong instinct to concentrate, because I’d never again see a sky quite like the one i was gazing up at.

*

My uncle Adrian was obsessed with the stars, and all things space-related. He owned many telescopes. He was at Nasa HQ during Armstrong’s first small step for man, covering the moon-landings for the front page of The Telegraph. He wrote many books outlining the future of mankind, which were translated into many languages including for the Japanese, who were crazy for them.

Adrian breathed to walk, and showed my brother and I the joys he took from placing one foot in front of the other for hours on-end during a weeklong trip to Zermatt when we were twelve. I drank my first ever beer in his company on the terrace of a mountain hut, under the watchful eye of the Matterhorn.

I remember walking with him and his two dogs Basil and Otto through Richmond Park on a rainy Saturday morning when I was ten, furiously scribbling notes for some homework essay I had to write about the future, while Adrian waxed about the millions of different directions the earth might go in, and the myriad of paths upon it mankind might take. I remember my teachers being so surprised at the detail of the essay and incredulous as to the source of my pre-wikipedia research that it was published in the school review.

I remember Adrian used to put cherry tomatoes in his cereal for breakfast. He had the coolest sci-fi VHS collection in the world. He was the first grown-man I ever saw cry, when Basil drowned in the swimming pool one Sunday and we buried him in the dog-graveyard. He taught me all about chess and Kasparov and Deep Blue and how we were witnessing the rise of machine over man. He had an incredible warmth, and was tactile in a way that was not common on the English side of my family. He would bound up to me when he saw me and bellow ‘what‘s the news?!’ with an almighty grin on his face.

*

Staring into unending space outside that mustering hut at two in the morning, looking up at the stars after my four hour walk, I thought of Adrian back at home in London, fighting cancer, and it became clear to me in that moment how obvious were the reasons why he loved the things he loved so much. And I felt glad and thankful that he’d shown me those things when I was young, and it was largely because of him that I’d gotten myself into the situation I was now in, lying on my back in the dark after my walk into the hills, staring up at the Milky Way.

Adrian was my mother’s eldest brother. He died this morning.

My Parents And Tech And John Travolta

Oscar Wilde said: 


The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young.



In the last few years as I’ve watched my parents lean inquiringly over the parapet of their own mortality, it’s like they seem to be trying their damndest to be more and more down with the kids. My mother’s fondness for abbreviated txt spk busts my balls in an adolescent way I should really rise above, as does her newfound need to walk around everywhere with her iPad strapped to her forehead. I thought my old man was faring a bit better, but no.


I got this email from my mum on Saturday entitled.


 Pops watching Grease on lovely summer afternoon.

And the attached photo.

On one of the balmiest Saturdays to hit rural Buckinghamshire in recent memory, with the mercury pushing 32, it’s a photo of my old man, inside, chair pulled up to within 6 inches of our 2003-model Hitachi, hypnotised by the hit musical Grease. This is a man who chastises my brother and I as idiots, who can hardly bear to have a conversation with us because we haven’t finished In Search Of Lost Time, and who has about 0.4 friends because it takes him all of half an hour to declare anyone he ever meets a bore.

Not so intellectual now are you pops.

Annoyingly the case for my father’s defence is being aided by my mother’s obvious ‘mastery’ of the technology at her fingertips. The photo is that size because my mother sent all 12KB of it.

Would the below stand up in court? 

That could literally be a vase with some pussy willow sticking out of it. I sent her an email telling her it was possible to send photos as well as just their thumbnails and she went mental.


*

Then again, this is all good news.

My mum being in the throes of an unrequited love affair with her iPad and my father watering his unhealthy obsession with John Travolta is actually the best thing ever. Because what kills us faster than old age is loss of enthusiasm. And as much as all this makes me want to roll around on the floor and moan like a twelve year old, it’s also proof my parents aren’t throwing in the towel any time soon. Which means I don’t have to take any responsibility for my life. None whatsoever. Not yet.

My Father The Great Bonfire of The Vanities

My old man isn’t self-portrait photography’s number one fan. To say he’s got beef with having his photo taken is an understatement. I don’t know if this is out of vanity, or because even in these twilight years he still needs to max out on security because of the coke racket he’s eyeballs deep in. He took me aside once when I was four and with a look on his face I’ll never forget said, remember this hijo mio, it’s not getting in that’s the hard part, it’s getting out. I thought he was talking about the front door, which was confusing. Now it all becomes clear.

I shot the below straight from the hip as I pointed to the right and screamed WHAT THE HELL IS THAT at the top of my voice. He never saw it coming.

Anyway, I was hanging out with him the other day in his study at home, and told him I wanted a photo of him to take back to my flat and put in a frame.

He turned, and looked at me in the manner of someone placed on the earth for the sole purpose of answering a question they have waited their entire life to be asked. His lips trembled. He held himself together. Claro, he replied in the porteño of his youth. And reaching down to the second draw of the desk he pulled it open and fished something out, his voice cracking imperceptibly. 

Take it.

Are you sure?

I can’t take this one I protested, it’s such a great photo, I don’t want to take your only copy. He shook his head gravely and insisted. No, I want you to have it.

It was a moment. It felt like a symbolic changing of the guard, my father giving me a photo of himself – that rare thing – and one he was evidently proud of, I mean with reason, he looks great. Who doesn’t cherish that kind of photo of themselves. One that evokes more than the person you are, the person you want most to be. It was a little faded and clearly old, with a lovely quality to it.

And yet it felt like I was taking something away from him. It saddened me. I couldn’t help imagining it as something he would keep close to him always, in the second drawer down, as a testament to his youth, a memento, to clutch onto as the dark clouds of old age drift across the horizon. It’s not like he knows what the hell a scanner is.

But he insisted.

Take it.

And as I descended the stairs it was remarkable how touched I felt.

I vowed to find a frame worthy of it, so whenever my father came to visit, it would be there, in pride of place, shining out like a beacon for all to see.

On the way out I saw my mother, and opened my bag to show her.


Look what papa just gave me.


A peculiar pained recognition traced its was across her face.


Oh God, she said.

And she groaned, and I watched her eyes roll alarmingly far back inside her head. That photo. About thirty years ago your father, for the only time in his life, set foot inside a photo-shop, and had 45 copies of that photo made. Forty five. Your father has had a thirty year love affair with that bloody photograph. Our marriage has suffered because of it. The bloody profile. That wistful look. That yellow coat, it comes to me in nightmares. He hands them out like sweets. He’s trying to get rid of them. There are drawers full of them.

In their droves.