Monday, 9 January 2017

Reasons to be Cheerful, Part Two


Coming soon to a bookshelf near you...the return of Reasons to be Cheerful!
Image (c) Tony Cocks

Well frankly it's about bloody time!  Reasons to be Cheerful, Part Two is now officially underway with the sending of a sample chapter to my lovely proofreader.

For this reason, I'll be posting a little less frequently on the blog, but if you want to stay in touch I'll be regularly updating my Facebook page and occasionally tiptoeing through twitter.

Alternatively, if you want to join me in making 2017 the year that you publish your book, I'm running a self-publishing workshop on Thursday 26th January in Woodspeen, Berkshire.  For full details, click here.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

A Christmas Carol

You know when you think you're just going to hear a few carols being sung by your child's class and it turns out to be a full blown church service?  That's precisely what happened to me recently.  Perhaps the fact it was held in an abbey should have alerted me, but I couldn't help but feel unprepared for 'what I was about to receive'.

It wasn't all bad though; the singing was great, the abbey was awe inspiring, and I learned a very useful lesson - some things never change when it comes to carol services.  I'm willing to bet you'll find the same things too:


1. There will be a child who actually sounds like an angel

To the boy who sang the first two lines of 'Once in Royal David's City', on his own, in the abbey, in front of hundreds of people - thank you, your voice is a rare and beautiful thing.

2. Two things about 'We Three Kings'

i. The alternative version

If the person next to you also knows the "one in a taxi, one in a car, one on a scooter beeping his hooter" version it will offer you a wonderful moment of bonding.  It will also offer you the opportunity to pass on a tradition when you teach it to your children later on that day.

ii. There is a pause

Don't rush into "Oh star of wonder" - oh no.  It actually goes "Ohhhhhhhhhhh (wait for it) ...... star of wonder".  The woman next to me said it reminded her of the punk version of Nellie the Elephant.  Which means that I now have two reasons to giggle my way through the carol.  And two ways in which to get it wrong.

3. 'Oh Little Town of Bethlehem' sorts out the regulars from the visitors

Doesn't matter how many times I sing this, I always forget that "How silently, how silently" should be sung quietly (shhhhhhhhh)

4. You will revert to childhood at some point

I found myself raising my eyebrows at the re-telling of the immaculate conception and associated on/off/on again of Mary & Joesph's marriage, especially as it was being read by a child.  So when I heard a man behind me say "oh, isn't the text wonderful" I presumed he was joking.  But as I turned to him in shared mirth I discovered that he was in fact A MONK.  A monk that was stood next to A NUN.  Neither of them were laughing.  Oh the hot flush of chastisement coupled with wanting to cry with embarrassed laughter.  Such. A. Child. 

5. 'Silent Night' is best left to the children

Even the nun didn't try "sleep in heavenly pea........eeeeeeeeece".  Too high.  Best sung by six year olds.

6. Two things about 'Oh Come All Ye Faithful'

i. It's that volume thing again - the choruses start quietly.

ii. It contains the classic line "he abhors not the virgin's womb".  And there's no way I'm singing it.  Change it to "he totally loved that virgin's womb" and I'll consider it.

7. You'll probably cry at some point

For me it's all about 'Away in a Manger'.  Can't help it.

8.  'Sing Hosanna' - still challenging

When I was at school the infants used to add an extra "of kings" right at the end of the chorus.  I went to one of my daughter's first carol concerts and guess what?  It happened then, and it's still happening today. 

9.  You should shake hands with the vicar on the way out

Whether it's a "thanks for the service" or "that's out of the way for another year", it seems a fitting way to finish.


Thursday, 1 December 2016

A Networking Christmas

Is Christmas making you queasy?
Are festivities making you frown?
Athena makes gift shopping easy
And avoids all the trauma of town

Buy your brother-in-law a nice back rub
Buy your aunty an intimate wax

Treat the family to a great photoshoot
Help your in-laws to sort out their tax

Book a mindfulness course for your mother
Or a dream holiday for next year
Take some reiki to help you recover
Have some coaching to help your mind clear

Train your canine to become a "good dog"
Train yourself into feeling more strong
Help your husband to learn how to cha-cha
Get a workout to fit in your thong

You can outsource your post-Christmas clutter
Free that neck nerve that somehow got trapped
Outsource dinner, pretend that you made it
Get your presents professionally wrapped

We have so many talents between us
So much that we're able to do
Here's to the ladies of Athena
A very happy Christmas to you!


This poem was inspired by the ladies of the West Berkshire Athena Network - thank you for your support, friendship and endless gift ideas :D

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Why I'm Learning to Love Football

I'll confess, I wasn't keen on my son getting 'into' football.  This makes me a traitor to my upbringing where football was the sport of choice and rugby was for "posh kids" or fat retired policemen.  I liked Chelsea because my dad supported them, but my mum supported Liverpool, so our living room featured a mirror for each team, which alongside the Coca-Cola mirror they had purchased, made it look quite a lot like a social club.
Can't see the mirrors?  Download the pics!
Frankly, a home is not a home without a selection of these...

Can't see Roy?  Download the images!
The man behind the song
(image sportworld cards)
My Great Uncle was a West Ham fan who taught us "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" and took the time to try to instil in us a love of local football with trips to Camrose to watch Basingstoke FC.  My brother and I wandered around the ground taking in the banter and the smell of Bovril, while we waited for goals that would never come.  These formative experiences prepared me well for secondary school where football chants were frequently sung in lessons.  My personal favourite was one that would be sung with incredible gusto and was beautiful in its simplicity.  It was about the QPR player Roy Wegerle and required just two things: his surname and the tune to "Here We Go". 

By the age of 14 I was going to matches with friends. We bought tickets via a friend of the 'QPR Boy' to go and watch Spurs vs Arsenal at White Hart Lane.  I don't even know how he got hold of them in the first place.  This is pre-internet - did he write off including a stamped addressed envelope?  Did he phone up the club and promise to send a postal order?  It matters not, we got the tickets, enjoyed the buzz of the tube on match day, went to the stadium, sat at the home end and then as the final whistle blew and people made their way out of their seats....my friend unzipped her jacket to reveal...an Arsenal shirt.  We ran the rest of the way out.

I have experienced the thrill of the terraces, been caught in a crush as people rushed to the barriers to celebrate a goal, enjoyed the independence of going to a match with my mates (and nearly got lynched) and felt the excitement of walking up to Wembley for a Cup Final (and seen piss cascade from the bottom of an advertising hording as men relieved themselves behind it) so why on earth wouldn't I want my boy to enjoy all this?

Here's a sentence that explains why I didn't want my son to like football:


"Oi you f**king c**t! Pass the f**king ball for f**k's sake!"

I heard this at my local park from the village football team.  As I walked my children to the swings.  I wondered if their families on the sidelines had selective hearing...

Here's another one:

"Pass it to Alfie!  Pass it TO ALFIE!  PASS. THE. BALL. TO. ALFIE. NOWWWWW!!!"

This sentence was bellowed by a parent at their 6 year old.  At another village park.  At what was billed as a "friendly football club".  Nice.

So whilst our son has always enjoyed football at school and is devoted to Reading FC, when he showed an interest in rugby I was pleased as I did not want to stand next to Mr "Pass it to Alfie" every Sunday.  

Here's what I heard at rugby:

"First things first, we respect the ref."  "We play as a team."  "If someone has a bad game we don't single them out."  "We have fun."  "There is a place on the pitch for everyone."


And here's what the parents said:


Not much.  Most people were gently nursing Sunday morning hangovers but when they did speak it was to say hello.  Nobody shouted at their children.

At local rugby tournaments people are friendly, at major games opposing fans can be trusted to have a pint in the stands together.  Without exception I have found rugby to be a welcoming and well-mannered game where it is possible to attend a match without hearing someone call the ref a "f**king wanker".  And there's the added amusement of some roaringly middle-class things happening like the time I saw a mum take her son's teams' sports bottles to the pitch in an Ocado wine carrier.....

But there is a little something missing with rugby.  And I think it's best described as this:


Anyone can take part in a kick-about.  It is nigh on impossible to have a 'rugby-about'.


The 'jumpers for goalposts' adage is true.  In Devon our son was kicking a football on the grass, and within a couple of minutes was joined by another boy.  Our daughter decided to join in too.  Three soon turned into four with the arrival of another girl, the dads followed on and before long I was in goal and the pitch was awash with dad-running, silky-skills and clumsy kicks.  We had over an hour of unprompted exercise and bloody good fun.  Everyone knew what they were doing and no-one needed to get grabbed by the legs. 
Can't see the Reading kit?  Click to download the pics.
Treasured and very, very lairy

In Poole a few weeks ago we saw 20 kids playing on an artificial pitch, with two dads loosely in charge.  On the first day our boy just watched them, counting the different team shirts and trying to suss out if they all knew one another.  We concluded that they didn't.  On the second day he looked over at the pitch then looked at me and said "I'm going to ask if I can join in."  And as I watched my 8 year old son, clad head to toe in his cherished fluorescent Reading kit, trot over, introduce himself and then get heartily welcomed into the swarm I realised that perhaps football isn't so bad after all. He had 90 minutes of being part of a team, the kids all calling each other by the names on their backs and no-one being told that they couldn't play.  The team sizes fluctuated up and down as children came and went but the game carried on.  He was in heaven and I saw how inclusive football can be.  And how it needn't be like the other examples I'd come to believe as the norm.

He's still playing rugby, but now he wants to join a football team too.  Perhaps I could learn to love it.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

I Helped the Dawn to Break

A cool October morning
My breath hangs in the air
The leaves hang on the trees - just
Next month they won't be there

I jog along the pavement
And push just up the hill
To enter into woodland
Damp shelter from the chill

Dog walker treads his circuit
His pup grins ear to ear
I leap a fallen tree trunk
Come out into the clear

And see the sunlight streaming
Lift souls from off the land
I raise my palms up skywards
Let light pour through my hands

A field once full now flattened
I race along its side
Bright shoes across the dun earth
The plough marks straight and wide

On to a narrow bridleway
My lungs about to burst
I run right through the cobwebs
It seems that I am first

I caught the horses dancing
I made the rabbits wake
I heard birds herald morning
I helped the dawn to break

Monday, 3 October 2016

The Bosching Machine


Dear Bosch

You say you offer a superior wash

But must you announce the laundry's end

With an ear-splitting noise that's bound to send


A person racing across the kitchen

To turn you off, and I am itching

To find your bleep and rip it out

"TURN OFF THE MACHINE!!" is the family shout


It would be cheaper to use you at night

But then you'd beep, which means I might

Take a hammer to your door

And spill your workings across the floor



At every wash I'd lain in wait

To stop the sound that I so hate

Until I found, oh joy of joys!

This clip of how to kill your noise....


Monday, 26 September 2016

I want to do great things

I'm not a promoter. Not a musician. Not an events organiser or full-time entertainer and yet.... I had an idea that what our village really needed was to have a live band and indie disco evening.
Oh yeah, PowerPoint has a Reading Festival template!
I wanted to do this because 18 months ago I'd been at a friend's party where we danced until 3am to a playlist of '90s music and sank drinks like we were at the Hacienda, rather than in someone's tastefully decorated home. People I'd only spoken to on the school playground or at the local pub became teenagers once again, and friendships were strengthened as we realised that we loved the same music. It felt like we all shared a little of the spirit that we allow to shine so freely when we're young and unencumbered by mortgages and the gradual build up of life's worries.
I also wanted to do it because since taking up stand-up I'd seen some great live performances from local musicians and felt that other people ought to see how talented these bands are. The comedy night I put on was well received so how hard could it be to put on a couple of bands?
Harder than I thought. During the process of organising the event I discovered that there was an awful lot I didn't know. Like what a 'DI box' or a 'stage monitor' is, or is for. I didn't know how to pronounce 'cajon' (it's "cah-hon" - a type of box drum) and I didn't know how to connect a guitar amp to a mixer. I didn't know that you needed a sound guy to make all this work well enough that the band won't sound like they're playing underwater in a dustbin. Fortunately for me (and for everybody else), the DJ and another villager who works in radio were experts, and kind enough to make up for my considerable lack of knowledge.
Awesome sound quality nothing to do with me...
The event itself was incredible. We danced like we didn't have any responsibilities beyond perfecting our Happy Mondays moves or being able to recite all the words to "Get Your Rocks Off". We tried to drink the bar dry but one thing that I *do know* is how to make sure a bar is well stocked. We tried to eat enough food to avoid getting drunk - only some of us were successful on that front. The next morning my feet were half a size bigger, the recycling bin had over 200 bottles and cans in it and I heard how someone had stopped on the way home to "have a go on the swings" for old times' sake. Someone had also been sick in their bathroom but I'm not supposed to tell you that....
That's not even the half of it......
The evening was a fundraiser for Smart Works Reading so there wasn't any financial reward in it for me, but I did get something else extremely valuable: a reminder that sometimes we don't need to wait until we think we're 100% there to go after the things that we want to achieve. By showing my enthusiasm, people became interested. By being clear on the outcome, others wanted to take part. By being honest about the stuff I didn't know, others offered to help.
This process has inspired me to go after the things that I really want to achieve - chief among which is to ramp up the number of speaking engagements that I do. So that's why I'm off to see the Berkshire WI speaker selection committee this week to see if I can't get myself a little tour underway.  I want to do great things, how about you?