Monday, 30 October 2017

The Frozen Best Friend

THE DOOR
18 October 2017
The Coach House, Hilary Place, University of Leeds

Dom (questioing and acting)

This is the story of a woman in her twenties called Julia.

It begins at the end of summer and the beginning of Autumn on a Friday at 10am.

Julia is on her way to work at Trinity, which is a hospital in a village called Leeds, which is between the town and the countryside. She is travelling by bus and is still 20 minutes away from work, having only just left her house. The bus is on the main road to Leeds. Julia works in the hospital as a nurse.

The weather is windy, rainy and sunny.

As the story of The Door begins, Julia is reading a book and listening to music on her phone with her headphones. She has Alice in Wonderland on her Kindle and the music is on iPlayer. She does not notice, but underneath her feet on the floor of the bus, there is a small door, big enough for her body to fit through, wooden, round and red.

Julia hears some whispering voices and at that moment, the door opens and she falls down. The wind is blowing outside the bus. The first thing that happens is that she thinks ‘I am going to die!’ because she is worried that she has fallen under the bus. However, she somehow realises that she is now in another time and place, because there is now a totally different atmosphere.

It is completely dark there, except for a yellow torchlight, which she thinks is close by, but is actually far away. She decides to run towards the light because there is nothing else there, but after an hour, she is tired and she stops.

The moment she stops, she realises that there is another door on the right. Even though she cannot see it, she realises it is a huge stone door, because she can hear someone knocking.

*She tries to open the door because it is the only accessible way, and as it’s an automatic door, it takes her two minutes and a further ten minutes to push the door open. She finds herself in the office of the hospital where she works. She decides that she must go and tell her best friend what has happened.

Her best friend is in the Psychology Department, a person called Peter-Nick, who was frozen at the age of 13, 17 years earlier. Julia became best friends with him over the last year because she was lonely and talks to him. He was taken to the Psychology Department so that experiments could be conducted on him to find out, when he wakes up, whether he has the mind of a 13-year-old or a 30-year-old.

However, Peter-Nick is now missing. Instead, Julia finds a black hole in the mirror of the unisex washroom, a hole about the size of an adult handspan, which she finds out about because there is black smoke coming out of it and a very deep, desperate voice is calling out ‘Save me!’ Even though Peter-Nick has been frozen the whole time Julia has known him, she recognises his voice from her dreams.

Julia decides she needs to stop the smoke coming from the hole because it smells bad, like gasoline, so she puts her hand up to the hole. But the hole grows instead, now a couple of feet in diameter, and a frozen, green hand about the size of Dom’s hand pulls her into the whole. It is Peter-Nick’s hand.
Outside, there is sunshine and lightning.

**Peter-Nick is there on the other side of the black hole. Julia finds herself in Frozen, and she has become Anna from Frozen. Peter-Nick has recovered from being frozen, and he now has the appearance of Julia. She is frozen and green, like Peter-Nick was.

As the story ends, Peter-Nick goes off to find other people to freeze, so they can swap places with Julia. Julia becomes queen, but remains frozen.


The sun shines and it is snowing.

'The Rainbow Monster of Margaret Thatcher Park'

HORROR STORY (no cards)
(For Dom’s 45th birthday)

21 October 2017
Harehills Lane Baptist Church Hall, Leeds
Mick (questioning), Dom (first acting), Fay (second acting)

This is the story of a rainbow monster, a female rainbow monster, who is a monster because she shoots poisonous rainbows. She is orange with prickles on her back, and sparkly. She is 45 years old, which is middle-aged.

It is Spring on a Thursday at midnight.

The monster is in the park in a town called Grantham – the park is called Margaret Thatcher Park. She is there stealing handbags from younger women. She needs the nail varnish in their bags, so that she can drink it to change into the other rainbow colours. The woman are there for the Rainbow Festival, and Mumford & Sons are playing, a 25-piece rock band. The monster has been stealing handbags for two hours.

It is raining.

The story begins when the monster decides to pick some flowers, but when she does this, there is an earthquake and the rain turns into a hurricane. The monster tries to put the flowers back in, but that only makes the hurricane worse. She is upset and crying, but all the women at the festival are laughing, because everything has turned orange.

At that moment, capitalism falls.

When capitalism falls, everyone sneezes and there is infinite happiness, the Proleteriat are free, Brexit collapses – and Starbucks also collapses. The Starbucks coffeeshops are replaced with libraries.
Meanwhile, the monster is so upset that she involuntarily shoots out loads of poisonous rainbows – and these destroy the whole world. The monster then posts on Facebook, with the words, ‘Sorry for the world. LOL.’ She was able to use Facebook, despite the world being destroyed, because her rainbows also charged up some satellites.

The monster decides to get a seed from Jupiter, which she feeds with Moon juice, and grows a new Earth.


At the end of the story, the monster dies because her rainbows have all gone. And the Earth is repopulated with Margaret Thatchers. It is raining men. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

EU referendum: choosing one terrifying elite before another

Sorry, all. But I feel like adding my tiny triangle to the orchestra of memes, blogs, videos and posts about the EU referendum. If you've already decided, then I don't imagine any arguments I make or questions I put might make any difference, but if you're undecided perhaps there's some room for discussion.

One big theme that seems to have reared up during the campaigns is how much emotion is a factor in the vote, that it doesn't matter how contradictory the various facts and figures quoted are as people are going with their guts - their scared, angry, confused or serenely determined irrational decision-making equipment. One of the lessons the twentieth century underlined (through advances in psychology and therefore marketing and political strategy) is that people generally do not make rational decisions - about anything. Not about whether they want a Mars bar or not, nor about who they should sit next to on the bus, nothing. So, I take any points that begin with 'here are the facts' with a considerable chunk of salt. I think it's become a question of which story or stories about the EU and brexiters I find easiest to believe, that I irrationally want to believe.

The choice between IN and OUT could be reduced to a choice between two ideas of elites - the bureaucratic, banana-straightening, gravy-boat commandeering Eurocracy with their contempt for national identities and the democratic will of places like Greece; and the public-school-educated, public-services-decimating, expenses-guzzling yet benefits-capping, First Past the Post Mother of Democracies with its rather uncomfortable relationship with the right-wing press. Neither of these options really tickle my vote, and this is why I initially had no real idea where I'd plant my tick come the 23rd. But not voting was not an option, so I had to make up my mind.



Many people seem to agree that the economic and immigration aspects of the debate can be debated down to the marrow without a very clear picture emerging: xenophobia and a rather self-righteous contempt for perceived xenophobia seem to dominate the action. The ideas about sovereignty and border control seem fairly cloudy too, especially as I feel neither of the aforementioned elites have my best interests at heart. Not to mention the best interests of people far more vulnerable than me. It might be that the EU is a failed model and we should extricate ourselves from our half-hearted involvement: I don't think anyone can be certain, and I don't see a truly plausible alternative model for prosperity post-Brexit.

So, as the vote either to stay or leave the EU involves a fair amount of risk, I think I'm voting on the basis of which threat seems the most immediate: Westminster or Brussels.

My paranoid, doom-laden personality traits have no problem digesting the idea of a New World Order, a neo-liberal project to allow the markets to set up and then run the global economy like a manufactured El NiƱo, decimating the poorer parts of the world to feed the profits of a shadowy 1% that sit gobbling at the top. I can see how the EU serves those vested interests, and it makes my guts surge when I think about it.

But I find it much easier to focus on the efforts of the tax-dodging media barons to fill the news stands with as much barely-filtered right-wing, xenophobic muck as possible and their plain desire to shape the news agenda to meet their own needs. That seems much more local, even if their tax havens aren't, and a much more immediate threat to me and mine, which at the same time is perfectly in tune with the same neo-liberal ideas about market forces being allowed to rage unchecked. When I think of how, it seems to me, that our country's lurch right-wards towards mistrust of others, contempt for the poor and the surrender of publicly-owned bodies to private profit has been nurtured and sponsored by papers like the Mail and the Sun, I feel sicker yet. There's a real element that I feel worse about the effects on the UK because I don't have to deal with the really sharp end of this global factors, droughts through climate change: oppressive working conditions or arms sales to the likes of Assad or Saudi; my largely comfortable life has only be affected by pricks of conscience and a sense of society sliding in the wrong direction. But I'm voting with my gut, aren't I? And isn't the whole point of Brexit that it is supposed to benefit us on this island? No one is suggesting any global benefits.

When I think of the public figures that are urging me to help separate the UK from the EU, I don't picture warriors for social justice, trying to find a way to balance the books to make sure A&Es stay open and schools can be properly funded; I see a crowd of plundering vandals, trying to liquidate everything they can get their fleshy paws around into sweet, sweet cash that they then share with their cronies and store away off-shore, untouched by the needs for investment in services and infrastructure at home. I'm not head over heels in love with those claiming we should stay either - whether they use an appeal to the same selfish ideals as the other shower, or generate warm, fuzzy feelings about peace and speciality cheese and other things that would likely still exist in a world without purple UK passports.

You could argue, and I might agree, that I'm only focussing on the local, the national, and that in the bigger picture the EU are worse yet, driving up employment across the continent through cruel austerity policies and worse, trying to shut up shop to desperate refugees while still manoeuvring to exploit developing economies - but I really believe that those canvassing for Brexit are just as keen on austerity, exclusion and exploitation and would rush all the more quickly in that direction.

If I was a juror, I'd be expected to reach my decision without any reasonable doubt. I can't say without reasonable doubt that the UK should leave the EU; I can't say without reasonable doubt that I trust Westminster more than Brussels. I don't think it is worth the risk. So I'll be voting REMAIN this month and I hope to the vengeful sky-god that enough of us will that the UK remains within the EU.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

'Wild Things' - longer (unpublished) version of an article for DUPE Magazine's forthcoming Wild Issue



If there’s one thing that rock and pop have tried to teach us over the years it’s how to be uncivilised.

We’ve been shown how to grow our hair, free our restless genitals, offend the cloying sensibilities of previous generations, to frug through the night to “so-called” music composed of little more than primal rhythms, to open up our wild sides or at the very least pay saucer-eyed factotums braver or more damaged than ourselves to work the magic by proxy.

Classic, greasy-quiffed rock ’n’ roll aficionados enjoyed plastering the word about.  Jerry Lee Lewis puffed out his cockerel chest as the original “Wild One” (with plenty of biographical data and manic piano-hammering to back up his claim). Martha Reeves & The Vandellas swooned over the brooding, misunderstood, leather-jacketed “Wild One” that society just couldn’t tame.

Freedom-loving outsiders were nothing new though. Folk music staple “The Wild Rover” had been crashing boozily about since the mid-nineteenth century.  Louis Armstrong started hot-jazzing “Wild Man Blues” in the 1920s. As long as there’s been civilisation, there have been barbarians banging at the door for last orders.

The “wild man” arc reached its natural conclusion with GG Allin, a hardcore punk/performance artist whose stage shows would end with him literally covered in blood and shit (mostly his own) after assaulting his audience and stripping naked. He died of an accidental heroin overdose at a party in 1993.

“Wild” broke whichever cultural taboo needed the most urgent attention. When Nina Simone wanted to describe what happens when “you touch me“, she reached for “Wild is the Wind” to subtly get her point across. That and mandolins. Tone Loc wasn’t quite so subtle when he shared his experience of the “Wild Thing” with us in his proto-gangsta braggadocio. The Troggs were at least a little more romantic (“You make my heart sing!”).

Once the seismic sexual shift of Elvis’s pelvis began to cool, “wild” represented personal freedom, a natural state that we were all born into before the Man ruined our nice vibrations with his wars and monogamy and narcotics legislation. Enter the Steppenwolf like true nature’s children with “Born to be Wild”, running their motors off into the psychedelic frontier at the nightmarish edge of the American Dream.

Youth helps; acting like children, even better. Iggy Pop was a rather wrinkly “Real Wild Child” reboot of the Wild One model in the 1980s. Skid Row’s poodle-noodles nodded and pouted as they demonstrated the awesome power of “Youth Gone Wild” and skin-tight jeans.

The frontier is another favourite idea: a porous space between here and there, us and them, where men can be men and women can be women and Adam & The Ants can be “Kings of the Wild Frontier”. Pantomime crazies The Prodigy had a weekend break at the “Wild Frontier”. Lou Reed sketched the “Wild Side” with anthropological detachment. Bow Wow Wow suggested we “Go Wild In The Country” when the fashion-conscious restrictions of London got too much for them.

But what exactly does this frontier separate nowadays? The boards of rock and pop have been trod by so many “wild” men and women the meaning of “wild” has become flattened under the weight of their collective hooves. Duran Duran anyone? (“Wild Boys!”)

Unruly behaviour itself has become worn down by repetition, the pavements of the citadel jagged with defenestrated TV sets. There was always money to be made in selling rebellion, but marketing so cleverly slipped its virus into the DNA of rebellion when it worked out that you can sell anything to anyone if you tell them it will help them “express their individuality” that there are no restrictions. The pop/rock impulse became a distended black hole sucking the whole culture inside itself.
There is still one border to cross though.

Rock/pop is an urban phenomenon, dependent on a specific density of punters and performers, huddled around the bars, clubs, record shops and venues to stay alive. But out there, beyond the walls, lies … the countryside! There be monsters. Rock stars gape in horror out the windows of their tour bus, clutching their bottles of JD with white fingers, at the kind of unimaginable deprivation that bluesy share croppers and yodelling hillbillies invented R&B and Country & Western to escape.

But there are some for whom the countryside, the Wilderness if you will, has an irresistible allure. Some are country lasses and lads who still feel the tug of the hinterland in their shiny metropolitan hearts; others are city types who feel the need to escape and recharge their batteries. 

The Kinks got as far as “The Village Green Preservation Society”, as manicured as carefully squared cucumber sandwiches. Blur (pre-Cotswold cheeses) could only sneer at a “Country House” with no immediate intention of moving into one. But Bow Wow Wow saw the benefits.

Led Zep spent so much time at Bron-yr-Aur in Powys, recording tunes about the magic of mountains and hills, that Robert Plant spoke Welsh. Pulp gradually shifted away from overlit, lip-gloss Britpop to find somewhere green and restful on their leafy “We Love Life” album.

For actual country folk, the countryside was less a mythic escape than a daily reality to be negotiated. Lead Belly and other bluesmen had worked in it (“Cotton Fields”). “Scratch” Perry has cows bumping through his dub mixes. Super Furry Animals sang about being “Mountain People” on the margins and recorded a whole album about the slow death of rural communities before Gruff Rhys marched off solo into the American wilderness. 

The continental expanse of the US gifted Messianic types (U2, the Boss) with room for a rugged, big sky aesthetic of self-reliance and spirituality among the prairies, deserts and giant Redwoods. Smog were happy to move to “the Country”. Canned Heat packed their flutes and jaunty time signatures too. “The Woods” held little terror for Sleater-Kinney. Grandaddy spelt out a childishly simple life in their “Nature Anthem”. Even Jay-Z and Kanye seemed relieved that there was “No Church in the Wild”.

But the Romantic poets left the British a legacy of terrible awe at nature, and Northern nature at that. For The Smiths, the moors always offered gloomy escape to desolate hillsides and child graves. Wild Beasts (from the Lake District) shiver breathily about “Wanderlust” and “Nature Boy” while British Sea Power (also Cumbrian) quivered with Ted Hughes visions of “Carrion” and “Favours in the Beetroot Fields”. Southerners Bat for Lashes (“Winter Fields”) and Metronomy (“The Reservoir”) also capture an eerie sense of human life caught in moments of nature-bound panic.

The post-punk generation found the spooky wilderness inside themselves and projected out into “A Forest” (The Cure) or just “Wilderness” (Joy Division), devoid of life exactly as the countryside isn’t.

But the gold star for combining the unpredictable performance of wildness with its high-country backdrop goes to Kate Bush. “Wuthering Heights” hits the spot: bird-flutter vocals escape out the bedroom window to dark, heartless nature; internalised alienation and childish excitement paired with brooding moorlands.

The last word goes to Jeffrey Lewis, or rather to the voracious “Bugs & Flowers” whose zillions of tiny souls will mean there will be “no room for us” in heaven. The real message from nature is that our wild performances and awe-struck contemplations will mean absolutely nothing; we are “infinite dust”. 

Try frugging your way through that paper bag.

Top Ten Gone Wild

The Dubliners – The Wild Rover
Louis Armstrong – Wildman Blues
Gruff Rhys – Walk Into The Wilderness
Bow Wow Wow – Go Wild in the Country
The Troggs – Wild Thing
Jay Z/Kanye West – No Church in The Wild
Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard – Bugs & Flowers
Sleater-Kinney – Wilderness
Pulp – Wickerman
Kate Bush- Wuthering Heights


Monday, 12 January 2015

Uncle Coc's tardy 2014 round-up

Howdy, chumpsticks!

Difficult to qualify exactly why I'm doing this, as it seems that I've barely had two minutes to sit and listen to any tunes over the last twelve months (and longer). It's been 6Music, vintage vinyl and increasingly reductive Spotify playlists.

Nevertheless, some tunes have made their way through the parental membranes that have closed over my ever-more-hirsute ears. They are tunes with enough hook in their fabric to dig into my inattentive gristle-holes and lay their little eggs. On the down side, I probably haven't got any great lyrical insights to offer.

So based on the frequency on the old Last.fm... And in reverse order...

#13 - Young Fathers - GET UP


It's a bit like Eurovision: you remember the tunes from the beginning of the year and from the end, but the middle can get a little doughy. Also, going on the basis of what I've played the most over a year will favour tunes that have been around for longer - but those are the breakbeats.

This tune is welded to January in my head - frosty Mancunian mornings, the beginning of my Dadly career and the glorious freedom of an ersatz study with 6Music on tap and "all day" to listen to it. Living the dream. It's a woozy paranoid headrush of an anthem and it was a classy surprise when they won the Mercury Prize, even though it has become a crud-stained tankard over the years.

#12 - Cate le Bon - I Can't Help You


Even though you'd imagine a move to Los Angeles would've taken the edges off her Welsh accent, Cate le Bon still sounds so foreign. Like a re-imagined Nico at the middle of a re-configured Velvet Underground, re-written from distant, hazy memories. Quirky, bird-twitchy pop and very cool. This track aside, I haven't listened to her stuff nearly enough.


#11 - Mungo's Hi-Fi - Bike Rider


Carries the smack of a novelty single, this track. But then what is a pop hook without novelty. I kept waiting for this tune to annoy me, but it never did. I kept expecting to hear it around and about, but it never seemed to happen. I love a song that takes a tangent in its teeth and runs it down to its illogical conclusion.


#10 - Metronomy - Reservoir


My favourite track from one of my favourite albums of the year, even if it didn't quite reach the shimmering heights of The English Riviera. Icy and alienated and oddly suburban, this could have been the soundtrack to a time-travelling summer of teenage heartbreak - tiny obsessions stretched out over long, languid months. And at the bottom of their black heart, sweet seething resentment.


#9 - The Kooks - Down


A bit embarrassing this one. They are a bit of an embarrassment as a band, aren't they? And it was almost a surprise to hear they were still making tunes. It's also a bit of a stupid song, lyrically; do we need another woman-done-done-me-wrong tune? No, we don't. But it nagged its way into my head and I'd feel dishonest if I didn't include it. After all, pop music can be as dumb as rocks and still soar, can't it?


#8 - White Fence - Before He Met Her (Decomposing Lime)

https://soundcloud.com/sonic-cathedral/white-fence-before-he-met-her-decomposing-lime-1

Mossy, doomy fanfare to kick things off and then off it drifts in a softly zig-zagging fractal pattern with vocals pleasingly sliding about, buried in the mix. Trebly guitars scribble in the margins and, like a Spike Milligan sketch, it warbles off into a slow-motion exit when it runs out of ideas. It might be psyche-by-numbers; it might be available by the yard from any respectable psychemongers - but it tucked itself into a niche in my memory banks and made itself at home.


#7 - Warpaint - Disco//Very


I was surprised that this got listened to as much as it did - although maybe I wasn't listening as closely as I should've been. A dubby, yelping excursion into half-asleep menace. Like a Starbucks version of The Slits in ways I can't quite explain: slick but propulsive. And who wouldn't warm to a video of people dicking about in slow motion in irony-faded t-shirts. (They know they're dicking about, right?)


#6 - Lizzo - Batches & Cookies


This might be from 2013, but the album is definitely 2014 and I certainly didn't know anything about Lizzo before then. You'd think after listening to it for a few months, I'd have an idea of what it's about; I very don't. Oddly self-conscious about having such a "street" tune in my year's listening, feels a little too anthropological on my part. But the whistling hook drove into my lazy ears and I think I sniff a touch of the Missy Elliotts, which covers two senses in one short phrase. Synaesthetic.


#5 - Colourmusic - Dreamgirl '82

https://soundcloud.com/memphisindustries/dreamgirl-82

It felt like there was a lot of moody, reverby music hanging around my noggin this year and oftentimes it was this track that was rattling my mental furniture. Slight pinch of 80s metallic dirge (although that might be the title coluring my perceptions) and a nagging Cure-like guitar line. Not sure I would actually want this tune soundtracking my dreams, whether they featured girls or not, but it soundttracked a chunk of my 2014.


#4 - Aphex Twin - minipops 67 [120.2] [source code mix]


Like David Bowie's Titanic emergence from the murky depths in 2013, the Man Dem Aphex got me feeling trepiditious about his return to the world of albums. This lead track did a whole heap of reassuring before I got the chance to listen to the whole thing. It's a blinder, an envelope-licker and paradigm-tweaker. It's Aphex's Dayvan Cowboy in that it is recognisable but has moved away from the obvious markers. Nothing made me want to dance more all year this tune. I don't think I've been able to stop myself listening to it at least twice each time.


#3 - Flyying Colours - Not Today



Guilty pleasure/pain, this one. So much like the snippets of Ride, etc. that used to pop up on the Indie Top Ten on the ITV Chart Show that it actually hurts. I feel all of the 25 years that divide here from there, but they are blurry with youthful velocity and hurtle. They are Australian, I think, so they've got catching up to do, but I have no excuse for such warm-bath wallowing. It simply pushes too many of my buttons. Their tune "Wavy Gravy" is also a belter with a far superior title.


#2 - Automat - THF

https://soundcloud.com/bureau-1/thf

This is a big, brooding Teutonic beast of a tune that I've conscientiously failed to find out much about. This is but a 40-second taster of what keeps leaping up on my randomised Spotify playlists and gets turned up every time. It reminds me more than a little of the infra-dark dub of Meat Beat Manifesto, millenial miasmic malcontent with room for dented cowbells. Could've been released anytime in the last twenty years but it choose to make 2014 its home.


#1 - Gruff Rhys - American Interior


I'm a fully-paid up member of the cult of this remarkable personality, so this can't be much of a surprise choice. But, head and shoulders the most listened to track of the year, this song about the heartbreak and hallucinatory isolation of exploration also became the quasi-official soundtrack for our move to Leeds due to a combination of heavy airplay at the beginning of April and its melancholic tone. It carried us to a new world and any time I listen to it in future will carry me back to that old future once more. Beautiful stuff.


I even managed to scrape together an idea of five albums that managed to make an impression on my mind over the course of the year. I've no great analytical insights to bring, as per usual, but in reverse order of impact...

#5 - Jane Weaver - The Silver Globe


Creeping in under the wire but making its presence felt very keenly as the year faded away, this was an album I'd meant to listen to for a while - due to various psychedelic buzzwords and good reviews that Twitter had thrown my way. It is packed with cool surprises, and not as out there as I'd expected, which turned out to be a strength.


#4 - Fuyija & Miyagi - Artificial Sweeteners


I tried to get into Todd Terje for months - with some progress - but this was my ageing synth-electronica album of choice of the year. A bit more bite, both sonically and lyrically, than the Nordic maestro while still sounding (artificially) sweet and a bit playful. Partially filled the gap that waits hungrily for another album from The Chap.


#3 - Aphex Twin - Syro


Already said much of what I can summon up for now about this album, but the rest of it matched up nicely to the invention and class of minipops. This track was another highlight.


#2 - Gruff Rhys - American Interior



Close call between the top two, which Gruff almost edged on the basis of the painfully weighty American Interior film. A truckload of steel guitar, noble sentiment and his clear, warm voice performing its usual low-key pop wonders. The album never strayed more than two feet from our turntable for months until it was usurped by the #1 choice.


#1 - Metronomy - Love Letters


A beautiful, sligthtly twisted pop machine with all the right noises in all the right places. Metronomy were the only band to play intelligbly through the muddy, muddy sound at the 6Music Festival in Trafford because of their crystalline sound. Devon knows how they make it so dreamy.

And with that, I shall melt into the 2015 night...

Your pal,

Coc x

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

The Hairy Dad Chronicles #4: One Year Progress Report

So, a year ago today, I completed my final day of work in my customer service contact centre job and joined the long-term self-employed: full-time Daddyhood. I've been meaning to blog again for a while - there seems a lot going on in my little head - and this seems a good occasion/excuse.

After Dadding it up, there was another big change three months later: a move from Manchester (where I'd lived for twelve years) to Leeds (where we knew no-one). This meant the first three months from January until 1 April were a kind of Phoney War, a ghostly sketch of how our life together was going to be. There was no real point joining any playgroups for such a short amount of time, and I would've felt strange signing up to a shiny new social life when I thought I already had one. However, I did discover something of a new daytime city, a city of parents and young children that I'd only glimpsed in the non-shadows. Parks became cultural hotspots; museums morphed into lifelines, places where hanging around felt permitted and where there was even something to ruffle the embers where my imagination once glowed.

Once we had moved to Leeds, the game changed and Jasper and I were faced with an intimidatignly blank social canvas. I actually lost some weight from walking up and down hills all around our corner of North Leeds* - the hills being a considerable change to flat, rambling Mancunia. I "threw" myself (relative to my sedate standards) into SureStart centres, singing groups for toddlers at Opera North, and eventually a local playgroup (run by parents). I decided to put myself forward as an organiser to try and get involved and get to know people. There was still the awkwardness of effectively asking people out, albeit on playdates in the park: I'd never been too hot at making the first move, so a few nerves were wracked. My previous method of striking up friendships had been sitting next to people in the pub and drinking. I was pleased with myself for the efforts I made though, and Jasper and I do have a few budding friendships on the go now.

When we were alone in Leeds, however, things got harder and darker.  The days seemed longer and a sense of desperation often swelled in my belly a couple of seconds after waking up in the morning. It's hard to understand exactly why this was - but my mental health was thrown into sharp focus. When Jasper was a very recent arrival (and with exhaustion ramping up the fears and tensions), there was depression, there were panic attacks and a lot of anxiety and dread jangling our nervous systems and weary minds - but as a routine and a sense of capability slowly formed, the angst eased and a sense of normality pinked up once again.

This was different though: I felt thorough alienation - a natural result of moving to an area without any friends. But on top of that was the dread of being unable to "do it", of not coping - which steepled up into a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom. Loving Jasper but also despairing at being stranded with him, and feeling terrible guilt about any resentments or panicky anger that would bubble up. My strategy was to try and break through the anger to tears as quickly as possible, to expose the raw nerve underneath my behaviour. Jabber came and cuddled me on several occasions when I was in tears - still does when I get upset now - and while I was partly delighted that he was so caring and would see his father as a human being, I worried that he would inherit some emotional instability from my example. I hate the idea of such a small person having to absorb so many huge emotions.

And the worst thing, the most horrible to try and deal with, was getting angry with the little human that was just trying to work out what life was about. This is what has brought things to a head - my head has brought things to itself. The anger came (comes) most likely from the sense of not being able to cope - depression, anixety and anger swilling around together - hormones narrowing my vision, overriding my furry nurturing mammalian instincts. Mealtimes were a flashpoint - related as much to issues I have about feeding myself as to any worries about Jasper's diet; when Lou came home from work, I felt compelled to report on how the day had been, and if I felt that I hadn't done enough (a very easy feeling to allow to take hold) then that would become another source of tension. Barriers are thrown up exactly where and when togetherness is most sorely needed by both of us.

I'm aware how absent Jasper is from this account. Of course, he can't blog about it; he can't really tell me how he feels about things, probably can't know himself. But I'm barely mentioning the object of all this fathering. This seems to illustrate just how far up my arse my head is - how much things are still about me, and not him. However, the feelings are so powerful that it's hard to break out from them, perspective is dizzyingly out of kilter. One critical voice chimes in with the shouty chorus that has berated me since forever.

And the emotions feel very old. I look back to when I was a kid and trace my sense of inadequacy and frustration to impatience from my Dad and I think the anger too. And I have wondered whether my Dad picked up these same frustrations from his childhood - the way he described his relationship with his Mum - a single parent, a wartime widow with two children to look after, a keenly intelligent woman who may have resented the lack of opportunity to express herself. I never met her, as she died just after my parents married, and my Dad has also been dead since I was 24 - so a lot of this is guesswork. But it feels intuitive. And I want to break this chain: I don't want Jasper to be trying to figure this same stuff out for himself in 40 years' time. I can't be sure that I'll be around to talk through it with him either.

So, I have been using cognitive behavioural therapy to try and re-programme myself, to try and take this anger out of the equation, to turn the depression inside out and focus on the many positive points of light in my everyday life as a Dad. And aside from the techniques to help me focus on the moment and not fret about the past and future, I've been instructed to challenge myself to provide evidence for my fears: focus on how well Jasper is doing, on how well I am doing. Instructed to reject the assumption that I am doing something wrong. Then I can relax and not assume that Jasper is doing something wrong. And the adrenaline will melt away and Jasper will continue to smile and grow into a happy(ish) human being. That's the plan.

I'm determined to make this fatherhood deal work - and if I squint a bit, I feel I am doing a good job, a job that I'm very lucky to be able to do. And I feel very lucky that Jabber is such a lovely lad. I'm still having to count to ten a couple of times a day when he feels less than co-operative, but I've tried to make a bit of a game of it and count with him. If he learns that trick at least, that'll be worthwhile.

This has been written largely in the past tense, which is inaccurate. A lot of these struggles are still very present, very immediate. But I think it helps me not to become overwhelmed if I can draw a line between Coc then and Coc now. And I need a lot of help at times - it's all big stuff.

Another frustratingly inarticulate post. I will have another crack at it, but it's taken so long for me to say this much that I need to get it out.

Yours in paternalia

Coc x

* The walking was less to get to places we needed to be than to fill hours that I needed to fill. Walking often helps to calm me down, although it can develop a bit of a manic aspect at times.

Friday, 1 August 2014

The Hairy Dad Chronicles #3: Daddy Day Care

Howdo!

Apologies for the unimaginative title, but I couldn't really think of a snappier one quickly enough.

So, our attempts at minimising our gender footprint also include the big one: childcare. This is the one that literally separates the men from the children.

Over the last twenty-one months we've tried to keep things as balanced as possible. Lou had six months of maternity leave from her job and was able to go part-time for another six and I was able to get a month off as a new father, combining holiday and my own statutory leave.

After the initial chaotic three months or so, where time felt close to nothing and sleep and feelings were fuzzy cousins to our reality, we settled into a routine of each of us looking after the little wizard every other night and me doing the bulk of the after-looking when I wasn't at work, while Lou watched over him while I sweated over a hot call centre. Noone got enough sleep and we were living against the clock, but it sort of worked. And Lou's parents helped out enormously, looking after him two days a fortnight, which meant we still had precious couple time and Lou could work.

We had fears about where our dollars would be coming from in a few months' time when Lou's job would be finishing, so when the opportunity for a full-time, permanent position came up in Leeds, we agreed the time had come to leave Manchester. Relocation, relocation, relocation. The job was considerably better than paid than what she was already on, and this opened a new door for us: a door we'd talked about for quite a while.

The wage I was earning was effectively the same as what we would be paying for full-time nursery care, and it wasn't a very expensive place where Jasper was spending his couple of days a week. It was a lovely place, but we felt we had a choice. We could try to carry on as we were, dropping the little bundle off and picking him up, with Lou somehow commuting the hour or so, and so on; orrrrrrr..... I could give up my work, we could move to Leeds and I'd look after Jabber full-time. Simplicity itself.

We talked about it a bit: my job was quite frustrating, I didn't really see myself progressing through the company, and Lou was sitting on some serious career tracks. It wasn't as though I was one of the country's leading neurosurgeons or a talented baker or a particularly enthusiastic traffic warden. And more "importantly", it would be a chance to walk some walk after talkng the talk for a while: some attempt at gender balance.

So, in January this year, the job was quit and I enrolled at Parenting High full-time. We were living "The Dream", but it was a dream with some dry, curled-up edges. Having been someone who spent most of his twenties and thirties unsure whether I could look after myself, it seemed a strange career move to look after a fifteen-month old creature. And here was something that I should have realised beforehand that still only dawned on me after a few weeks: I hadn't been trained for this stuff.

I know no one is trained for parenthood, I know. But this whole gender thing still has some teeth, I think. I can't pretend this is a universal truth and that every man is similarly poorly-equipped as I am in to take care of others; on the other hand, it feels as though there is a gender element to the whole preparation for life. That girls are encouraged to think ahead, see to the details and take care of business, while boys can explore and ponder their schemes for self-fulfillment. I've become more acutely aware of how others have seen to these details for me - and how often those others have been women. I've had to somehow make myself aware of what needs doing. So, that's a steep learning curve right there, which I've been clinging to despite enormous gravitational forces and my own incompetent fingers.

I don't want this to read like an excuse. I'm fully aware that as a grown-up adult, I should've been very much aware of what needed doing every day and who should have been doing it. I'm not sure how this happens, how these jobs become so invisible, but I want to try and disrupt the signal on the cloaking device for Jasper. Even if I don't feel like I know what I'm doing, by doing it I'll hopefully give him a positive example. And I'll make sure that I'll point out to him what needs doing as he gets older, so that he doesn't have even that excuse.

I'm pleased that I'm on the learning curve, that I feel I'm following my principles (which is a weird feeling to which I am not accustomed), but I cannot tell myself that a lifetime of applause and shiny medals awaits, because people just get on with bringing up families all the time.Just because I'm finally starting to grow up, it doesn't mean I can stroll about the world expecting my hero hugs. But I'm still pompous enough to have some ideas as to why we've gone this route as a family and I'd like to share these with you now.

The reward will hopefully be that Jasper sees things differently, that he feels more responsible for the details in his own life and takes care of things and other people accordingly. Hopefully, he will think that it's perfectly normal for a Dad to look after his kid all the time, which it is - really: even if it doesn't always feel like it. Conversely, the plan is also that he will be quite happy not to be the main breadwinner or blithely assume that his career will come first, take precedence over those careers of the women in his life.

Lou read some interviews a few months ago with women who had been confronted with the decision between childcare and career. She told me how fortunate these women felt that their partners had given them the choice between having a career or staying at home to bring up the children. Either of these options would certainly involve some sacrifice for the young families, not least fiscally, but it was remarkable to Lou that the third option of the husband looking after the child was not considered. Once the breastfeeding stops, it could be argued, there isn't much that the father shouldn't be able to do that the mother does: it ceases to be about anatomy but the culture and politics remain. In our case, the practicalties swung the role of primary carer in my direction.

The other thing which I've noted is the length of the "working day". Jasper generally wakes up between 6.30 and 8am, usually around 7.30. (We're very lucky that he sleeps as well as he does.) My day starts with his, as a rule. Our deal is that I also look after the house - the bulk of the household chores - although Lou still cooks frequently and will normally chose the menus for the weekly shop. After his lunch, Jasper sleeps for a couple of hours and I can get some work done - I'm also doing proofreading and writing CVs to earn our spending money - and then it's housework and keeping the littlun fed and entertained until he goes to bed around 7.30pm. Then, I often have proofreading or similar work to do for a couple of hours, soemtimes quite late into the night. I could be better organised and get things done quicker, but that's the shape of things so far. A full-time job of childcare and household chores plus a part-time job. All my sparetime is now monetised: the clock is ticking and it sits in the kitchen. I've no threshold to cross to go back to work; it's always at home.

Sounds a lot, and it can be knackering and a little alienating, but this is largely because I consider a job the kind of things that more responsible folk do when they get home from work anyway. It's another case of my dodgy mindset: why is doing a load of washing work? Everyone has to do washing. It's the assumption that I'm entitled to hours sitting on my broadening backside watching TV that's causing the problem.

Anyway, I must go to bed. This blog hasn't quite covered the points I wanted, I don't think. I may well have another attempt later in the year to undo some of this clumsiness. But part of the issue with my new role is that there's always something I could be doing with my time, something less self-indulgent.

Peace out.

Your pal in daycare,

Coc x