Films, Festivals and Football
Amid all the stress of Abi’s illness, I’ve become acutely aware of the importance of ensuring that Kara and Abi enjoy their childhood. So I make sure we do lots of fun stuff. As a family, we like nothing more than being sat on daddy’s bed, cuddled up, engrossed in a decent film. I love introducing my children to the magic of Star Wars, or the amazing Studio Ghibli animations.
I’m a bit of an environmentalist, and I think our world faces unprecedented challenges due to the pressures we have placed on our ecosystems. So while having fun, I also try to tune the girls into their natural surroundings. I want to give them every opportunity to become happy, caring people with high spiritual, rather than material, values. Though we live in town, we’re blessed to have a beach nearby, and we visit often; it’s crashing waves and stiff breezes are an easy way to experience the full force of nature. And one of our favourite days out is a visit to some woods nearby. There’s a footbridge over a lake there, from where you can create a feeding frenzy by throwing bread to the incredibly tame carp and rudd. I love birds too, and I’m passing that passion on to Abi and Kara. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than when they correctly identify a robin or a wren.
I love going to festivals during the summer. In fact, having been to Glastonbury and the like, the girls are now old-school festival goers. Indeed, Sarah and I conceived Abi at a festival. I now appreciate the smaller more intimate events more than festivals the size of Glastonbury; they are way more personal, much less corporate. They also attract the weirder side of society, so they’re a fantastic way to celebrate the incredible diversity of our world and to experience human creativity at its best. We have had many hilarious experiences at those festivals, but one of the funniest happened at an event during an incredibly wet UK summer. In other words, the festival was extremely boggy and everyone there was knee-deep-in-mud. That never really matters, though, because us Brits are an indomitable lot and a bit of weather will not dampen our spirits. Except Abi, who is definitely not a fan of a bit of weather and thoroughly detests getting dirty. One morning, Abi and I were sitting on a rather high bench having breakfast. She was quite miserable because she had got dirt on her tights. One of the other festival goers noticed her mood and was doing his best to cheer her up: “I’m going to push you off that bench!” he joked. But Abi was trying particularly hard not to see the funny side of this: “No you’re not,” she replied, grumpily. But the Gods seemed determined to punish her humour failure. I’m still not sure how this happened, but somehow, Abi managed to fall face first into the mud! She was filthy! Imagine the guilt of the man who had suggested he push Abi into the mud: “Oh. My. God,” he said through hands held over his shocked face. But oh how he laughed and oh how I laughed too! Oh, how little our hysterics helped! Abi was inconsolable! But oh how I wish I had a camera to record the event! Luckily no children were harmed during the making of such funniness. After a scrub down and change of clothes, Abi soon cheered up.
I’m a West Ham fan, and many of my memories of my youth are a far cry from the hedonism of a music festival or the beauty of our natural environment. They are, however, of something equally primaeval; the terraces at Upton Park. I have passed that onto the girls. Our first game together was West Ham versus Southampton. They absolutely adored belting out, “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”, West Ham’s iconic anthem, at the start of the game. A sluggish first half became much more entertaining in the second half, with West Ham quickly taking a 2–0 lead. It became even better when Kara worked out that she should taunt the opposing fans, who were sat nearby: “Losers!” she shouted, standing on her seat. Perhaps, as a responsible parent, I was reneging on my duties by letting her mock the Southampton fans. Unfortunately, memories of my late teens had kicked in by then, and I couldn’t help but encourage her. Oops. Despite Southampton pulling one back and a few nervy moments, the mighty claret and blue army eventually ran out comfortable 4–1 winners. With that, the girls became life-long fans. Poor things; little did they realise that it would be downhill from there. Watching West Ham invariably sets one up for the world that tends to disappoint. So, perhaps, one day, they’ll thank me for that dose of reality. But, more than likely, they’ll curse me instead. I can hear them now: “Couldn’t you have supported Manchester United, Daddy?” they’ll ask. Though I do think that the pain ahead began to dawn on them, when, in the next game I took them to, West Ham blew a 1–0 lead to lose 2–1 at home to Everton. Kara was inconsolable afterwards.
Unfortunately, I might inflict the England football team on the girls next. Now that’s a world of over-paid-prima-donnas and never-ending pain. They’ll probably never forgive me for that one. Luckily, Abi’s already aware of just how bad they are, because she once declared, without a hint of irony: “The English football team are really friendly. They always let all the other teams win!”