Tuesday, 20 October 2015


Hello dear MB,

I know I've been slow getting here this time. Writing has been very much on my mind and also very much relegated to a spot called later. Maybe it's that back to school bizzo - it's always busy isn't it? But more likely it's just the process of writing, which you and I both know can be a bit sporadic. I am noticing though that even if I'm not motivated to write for myself, I'm motivated to write for you, so I think we're on to a good thing.

This term is gearing up to be a full one for me and I confess to having spent some time last week worrying about that. Last term I had a couple of weeks where I tried to pack in more than I could easily achieve and even after I'd proven my doubting self wrong and nailed it all awesomely, I still felt significantly the worse for wear. I don't want to wear myself down like that again; it was hard to get back up from. That said, I'm still planning on doing everything that I want to do, everything that I need to do and all the things that other people expect and require of me, so it would be fair to predict some worn out-ness to come out of that. I'll keep you updated on how I go.

In contrast to the busyness, I keep thinking about the school holidays - gosh they were good. We stayed home and read books. We walked to the dairy and bought ice creams and then ate them leaning against the sunny wall of the school library. Friends came to visit. We went to visit friends.  I taught Jesse how to play last card. Joe went off on his bike, out and about doing things without parental supervision. It's a whole new world for him and what a great feeling it must be. Do you remember what it felt like? I remember. I remember coming back through the back door and calling out Mum's name and she was there and she hadn't needed me for anything but she was happy to see me. I think somewhere along the line I've lost that freedom again and I didn't notice it going. And I wish my mother and I shared memories in a kind way more frequently. That's just a passing thought really.

The seasons have been changing here. I haven't worn a jacket for a while and I've discarded my socks and stockings. I've even been needing to open the window in my little reading recovery room from time to time. I love the warmer weather coming, but my pasty whiteness and winter pudding rolls make me a bit nervous.

Your big school inspection will have been and gone by now. How did it go? You would have shone, that goes without saying, but I'll look forward to hearing the ins and outs of it. And soon you must be off to inspect elsewhere I think? I'm happy to hear whichever details you're in the mood for sharing.

On Sunday Ben and I took a day trip to Auckland. We'd never done that before and overall I thought it was well worth the effort. We were without our children, without luggage and in possession of a rental car, so really the world was our oyster. We went to Auckland to celebrate our much loved sister-in-law's 40th birthday. All the family were there and I was happy to see them all. I would have liked to say a few words about Jan at her party as she has been a wonderful friend for a long time now, but I hadn't known in advance that there was going to be an opportunity to give a speech, so when her husband stood up and asked if anyone might like to say a few words, I didn't have any. What I realised from that is that I'm not good at spontaneity. Now that I'm 40, each time I discover something that I'm not very good at I wonder if I should try to improve in that area or just accept that that's what I'm like. How do you approach things you're not very good at?

Our niece was at the party. Her name is Meghan and she is two and a half. Her Uncle Ben thinks she is the most beautiful thing EVER and I am wishing a long life of mutual admiration for them both. Meghan could do a lot worse than modelling the partner she chooses in life on her Uncle Ben. And Ben could only benefit from her friendship and love. I'm sorry he doesn't have a daughter - he would have been really good at it. So would you.

I said last time that I would write more about friendship and goodwill. But I find myself reluctant to talk too much about my relationship with Ben for fear of sounding like I think we have this being-in-a-relationship totally sussed. Does anyone have it totally sussed I wonder? We're a work in progress; some aspects of our relationship work beautifully, other aspects I can see other couples doing a lot better than us.
I mentioned friendship and goodwill when I talked about Nita-gate though because I had identified those as the two aspects of our relationship that we drew on in our choice to remain loyal to each other. Romance and sex and falling in love are available other places, but 15 years of loyal friendship and happy company and the shared memories and achievements that go with it, you can't just get that anywhere; and so it's precious. Our mutual goodwill comes out of that friendship I suspect. It's a holding of the other ones happiness as a high priority. When we act kindly and supportively that brings with it a reciprocal momentum. Good will makes more good will.

As an aside: I don't think people ponder maintaining momentum enough. It's massive for me in understanding how my life works: the more I do something the easier it becomes and the more I get out of it. Writing a blog is a case in point. Frequent kindnesses are another.

When I wrote "builds reciprocal momentum" I suddenly thought: building a house is a metaphor for relationships. (Bear with me). So you start off building a little house together and then over the years you (hopefully) keep building on it and developing it and making it just how you want it (bigger, stronger, more porches for enjoying the view). But life's busy so from time to time you neglect the house  and it gets shabby in places. And then I guess you either spruce it back up again or you just leave it like that. No house will be perfect, there'll always be a room that doesn't get the sun or a draughty door or some such thing, but as long as you love where you live, and fix the bits that you think need fixing, it will be good enough. It could happen that one of you decides to move out of the house, maybe they think they've found a better house, or they just don't like the one they're in. The house might even fall down leaving you both homeless. And while that will feel like a tragedy at the time it won't actually be the end of the world, because as much as one or both of you might think you never want to live in another house, you could actually build again with another person and you could love that new house just as much.

What do you think?  I'll stop there (although I could go on, because gosh I love a metaphor); but Billy Bragg says you have to be careful with metaphors as you never know where they might take you. Feel free to pick holes in it; I can be resilient about you not agreeing with me. 

You know one thing I would say about Ben's and my relationship? I can't actually think of a time that we've had to pull on resources that we didn't already have available to us. Ben and I, as a team, but also as individuals, are good at being good friends and we're good at kindness and supportiveness. We've got through 15 years, and while it hasn't always been easy, we've used the skills we have to get through. Maybe our current skills will cover us, but I think the chances of getting through the next however many without ever having to significantly up skill in a particular area seems unlikely. Would you agree? I hope that up-skilling goes ok when the time comes. I'd like to end up old with Ben. I think there'd be a lot of cups of tea and games of cards involved in it.

Here's a song for you by The Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It sprung to mind because there's a great line in it that goes: 'This is what I give to you because I get it free'. I've been pondering that line for 12 years now. Do you think a kindness counts as a kindness if you're only giving what you naturally have in abundance to give?

I think this might be the place to stop. How are your boys though MB? It is now less than two months until you see them. You've almost made it. On my home front one of my sons has taken to swearing (crap is his favourite word), one is living out one long pokemon impersonation, and one is well and happy again. I don't think there's anything more that I need to say about any of that. 

Sending you lots of love dear friend. You're often in my thoughts.

Thursday, 8 October 2015


Dear Rachel,

It's not enough that I apologise for delaying in writing back to you but at least let me start by saying that I am sorry. Your writing has been in my mind but my bum has not been in this seat for long enough to let you know that. Here we are.

Good news is one of life's pleasures. Babies are good news, ergo babies are pleasures. A lady whom I have worked closely with for the past couple of years announced her pregnancy recently and you can see already in her face the love and excitement bubbling. It's as if she has already had a cuddle, which I suppose she has as she envelopes and develops that wee creature. I wonder if she has any idea how new her life will be in just a matter of weeks.

I received a handmade father's day card in the post today from my dear Jonah. I've written before about him and the delay I had in bonding with him when he was so little. I adored him long before he was a twinkle but, to my enormous shame, I held back. It's godawful for a parent to write those words. 

Jonah is a hero. His is alive to the nth degree and brings happiness and hope to his company. He brings it to me every time I feel him in my thoughts and prayers. Ben is a one in a billion boy and we worried that Jonah would be in his shadow. Little did  we know that they be in each other's - keeping the other cool. Our family has its bumps but the love and affection between Ben and Jonah is as big as Wales itself and the root of all the pride I enjoy in my life.

Yes, I got my cookies and the conversation and smiles I really was after. There was also a bag of cookies hanging on my door handle one evening this week after I returned from a run.

With a good friend, I am off to Oman again tomorrow, . It's a beautiful place and you'll definitely get taken there when you visit. The water is clear and there is a warmth from both the sun and the people which makes me feel at home. I am going because I have been so busy at work (and the pub) recently. There will be not let up for the next month. This is a forced break and when my friend agreed to come I knew that choosing to be happy instead of busy  this weekend was a splendid move. With regards to ice cream, I like the ones that are berry flavoured. As an adult with discretionary income, I often splash for frozen yoghurt or sorbet. I was babysitting a wee boy yesterday and we went for a very simple vanilla on a stick, coated in a hard chocolate shell. It was a good choice because it became a little messy which gave us reason to laugh and wipe faces. You did well to identify the need for a treat and stepped up, as a kind person, to make it happen. Ice cream is a memory maker, amiright?

I do actually understand what you mean by parenting being a be a show and we're in the audience to some degree. Once I realised this was the case, I felt a relief in letting my boys be who they already are rather than trying to make them into who I wasn't, we were all free to enjoy the ride a little more. A trip to New Zealand a few summers ago to farewell a friend impressed this deeply in me and although I never thanked him for helping me understand this, I will be forever grateful.

Being secretary for the Sailing Club will be a hoot. If there is a uniform, like I hoped, it will be provided by myself and will consist of what most cool middle aged men wear - jeans, adidas sneakers and either a smart collared shirt or retro tee with a slogan reading 'independent trucks' or 'old school' across the pecks.

You asked me a question which I was asked again by another compatriot this week. You'll get the same answer. Little makes me happier than to see parents taking joy in their children and expressing that through the stories they tell. I worship my sons and talk about them as much as I bloody can. Please, don't for a second hold back sharing this part of your life with me. There is no sadness here when I read these stories as they all remind me of the love I have for my own whippets.

As I work long, officey hours these days, music has been barking away in the background relentlessly. Jack White and Dave Grohl have had my attention almost exclusively this week. Jack White is, as has been said by many, a genius. Dave Grohl is simply a good old fashioned rockstar with belting tunes. In the end, it was decided that we enjoyed listening to music we liked more than playing musical tease.

Rachel, it's been lovely to chat. I said more to you in my head as I reread your post and it's not all here but be assured you have kept me thinking as always. When you're ready, tell me about friendship and goodwill with your Ben.

Have a happy weekend. Drink wine (then tea) and laugh as much as you can. As you like. As you need to. As a child.