Monday, 11 September 2017

Forever Be - Hope For Lily Update..

Those of you who have read my some of my previous blog posts, may have seen two posts from November last year, regarding little Lily Hall, the daughter of a friend of mine who suffers from Rett Syndrome? 

If you haven't read them and wish to do so, please check out them out on the following links. 

I wanted to update on the progress and to share an amazing development.

Firstly, the money raised last winter, went a long way to obtaining the vital funds required to allow Lily to have a better quality of life, especially in regards to the special toilet, which offers her some form of independence back. The specialist piece of equipment washes and dries her, and flushes via a remote control. Unfortunately the family had to wait until August for the news that the planning permission was agreed, and some changes have now had to be made regarding the bath unit, and instead they will get a wet room/shower, with a smaller bath for her to have the ability to splash at bathtime!

Alongside that amazing and long awaited news, Lily’s brave supermum - Kerry, has somehow found the time to write and release a children’s book!  The book which has been available on Amazon for a fortnight has already hit the #1 Best Seller position on the Amazon chart for Diseases, Illnesses and Injuries for Young Adults.

Forever Be, is a beautifully written short story of three siblings who have different issues, but the same longing for love and togetherness within their family, despite middle sister ‘Rosie’ having very different needs and abilities.

Using her own first hand perspective on how children endeavour to understand something that is different from them, this book is a great way to allow other children to understand that we have differences, and that despite having to communicate in a different way, ‘Rosie’ still loves her family and her life, and the love and honesty which comes across is real.

As a parent of an inquisitive youngster, my son will always question things which are different. In his own way, he has asked various questions about the book when we have read it together at bed time, and this open conversation is a great way to detach stigma from issues such as disability and different needs. At first he wanted to know when she was in a chair, and why she couldn’t eat properly, whether he fully understands at this age is irrelevant, as in my opinion asking questions is an important part of development. Children will accept most things once they understand them, so a book like this is a vital tool in enabling this understanding. It is the type of thing I hope that nurseries and schools encourage, and in my opinion this book should be available in schools and libraries.

Another aspect of the amazing achievement that this is for Kerry, is that her selflessness again shines through, with her willingness to donate a percentage of all profits to Reverse Rett to help fund treatment of Rett Syndrome. I have nothing but admiration for Kerry and the rest of her family.

If you would like to order a copy of Forever Be – it is available via Amazon

The family will continue to fundraise, and from time to time need a little help themselves. Any donation is much appreciated.To keep upto date with Lily’s progress, join her facebook group, where the family share videos, pictures and updates:

To follow the great work done by Reverse Rett - please check out their website:

Friday, 8 September 2017

Paternity Leave: My 10 top tips...

On August 13th 2017, we welcomed our second beautiful baby boy into the world. His birth was a complete 180’ compared with my first sons birth in every single department. To start with it was far calmer, far quicker, and for me I was a lot more involved, which was great.  With it being the second time around for us, I had far more knowledge about what to expect. I already knew that my Life Will Change in an Instant.

My partner had once again been a superstar, and our new born immediately started to feed, and passed all required checks. We were told we were able to go home soon! Just four hours after delivery, we were being discharged by the medical staff. But then we received a phone call from Kate’s mum to inform us she was en route to the Accident and Emergency department, as our eldest had slipped and fell, appearing to have dislocated his shoulder. Just our luck I thought. Our eldest is literally 100miles per hour, all of the time. I have lost count of the amount of clumsy accidents he has had so far in his two and a half years on earth, resulting in hospital visits. So it was typical that when Mummy and Daddy were in hospital, that he would wish to join us! I quickly rushed to the A&E department, explained to the staff that my partner was upstairs in the Maternity ward, and that a three hour wait in A&E would not be possible for us. They kindly rushed him through.

At that stage I thought that my two week Paternity leave would take a very stressful turn. How would we deal with a new born and a two year old with an injury. It was that stage I decided to inform my employers of our news, and start my paternity leave.

I am lucky that the company I currently work for offer two weeks fully paid paternity. This is a huge perk compared to my previous company, where I was only eligible to one week full pay and the second week statutory pay. This would have left me out of pocket and struggling to pay bills that month, so I took the one week full pay, and added a second week out of annual leave. I felt at the time that my time off felt extremely rushed. This time around, I had the knowledge that I would get two weeks full pay, which meant I wouldn’t need to worry come pay day. Additionally, I elected to take one week annual leave on top, resulting in three weeks away from the office.

My three weeks off seemed to go past in a tired whirlwind. I am so glad I took the extra week off.  I needed it! We had multiple hospital trips for my eldest, who we discovered after two xrays, had a fractured collar bone, and appointments for my partner who unfortunately suffered an infection which caused her much pain and distress. We also were unable to register our son’s birth until the end of the third week, which was frustrating. We wanted to ensure that we gave ourselves as much time together as a family of four as possible. With our first baby, we had visitors every day, and to be honest it was too much. This time we decided to have immediate family only, which worked for us.

Us Dads are an important function of keeping things together in the weeks following the birth of your baby, however are often forgotten about in the process. A dad will be on an emotional rollercoaster, and will always have other worries and thoughts in the back of his mind. However long you are off of work for on Paternity, it is crucial to make the most of that time you have, and not allow yourself to over think about certain things. Just enjoy the time with your newborn.

Here are my top tips to consider during paternity leave:

1) Avoid work
Leave your laptop at the office and turn off the work phone if you can. Obviously this isn’t always possible, and for those who are self employed, getting any paternity leave will be difficult. But consider that in the wider scheme of things, your baby will not be a baby forever. This precious early moments will never be there again. Your partner will need a huge amount of help, and you will need to be there both mentally and physically. Try to ensure before baby arrives, that you have handed over work where possible, and made alternative arrangements where you can. If you have to take a call, try to get an agreement in place both at home and at work, of a set time you can take a call, don’t let them contact you when they see fit. For those two weeks, let them fit in around you.

2) Accept Tiredness
You will be tired. It’s a fact. It is unavoidable, and it is easily the worst part of the early days of parenting. It will hit you like a sledgehammer, and will be worse than any tiredness you have known before. You will have tired arguments in the middle of the night, which you call each other all names under the sun, accept it as part and parcel of having a baby, and move on. Agree that anything you say at 4am is not really ‘You’, instead it is ‘TiredYou’. TiredYou is a dick, and your partners ‘TiredHer’ is also a dick. Leave the tired arguments in the dark of the night, and enjoy the daytime.

Also, don’t whine about being tired to other people. When my partners waters broke at 11pm, we were told to go to see the Maternity staff, I knew it would be a long night. By 3am we were back home. I had been awake for 20 hours at that point, and we were not in active labour. Three hours broken sleep later, contractions were coming and we were back on our way to hospital. That night, I took the first night feed duty, and probably got four hours broken sleep in all. 7 hours broken sleep in the first 48hours is a sign of what was to come. But if you are to bring this up to people, you are automatically going to be seen as the enemy, so keep it to yourself, and try to get cat naps in where you can!  Understand that if you mention being tired, there's a chance your partner may want to lash out at you. Female members of both families will no doubt give you some disapproving looks, and any other mothers you encounter will tell you that you do not know the meaning of tired! – You have been warned! 

3) Do night feeds
You are already tired, but night feeds are not necessarily as bad as they sound. For me, it was about timing. First off, I was able to watch Game of Thrones airing at 02:00, the same time as it premiered in the US. That way I didn’t have to worry about seeing spoilers the next day, and having to wait til 9pm to watch it was the rest of the UK. (That Dragon! Jeeeez!). Secondly, I was able to watch the McGregor/Mayweather fight as it happened. I was already awake, so made sense to watch it live! Again, probably not a good idea to tell your Mrs that you strategically chose the nights you would do night feeds, and purposely stayed awake to watch early morning television.  

But in all seriousness, I felt some of my closest moments with my newborn son, happened during those night feeds. When the rest of the world was sleeping in darkness, my baby and I really connected. I was able to be as corny as I wanted to, knowing that it was just the two of us. I would be the one to feed and soothe him, I would be the one to watch him fall back to sleep. Precious moments, which I will cherish forever.

4) Be proactive. Get shit done
Don’t be the dad who just sits plays his Xbox for two weeks, as tempting as that may be. Be the dad who does things in the home, that the mum wants to do, or wants him to do, before she has to ask you to do them. Be the Dad who does the housework, cleans the bathroom, does the laundry. Be the dad who is the king of the bottle steriliser, unleash your inner chef. Even if it sucks, and you end up ordering a Dominos, just be active and be the best Dad you can be. Yes you may see yourself as being ‘the help’, but get off of your ass and get visitors drinks and sandwiches etc. Get yourself in the good books, and then when you need a daytime ‘time out’ after a busy night watching box sets during a night feed, you may get one without a verbal ear bashing!

5) Book to register your baby ASAP 
In the UK, you have to register your baby with your local council offices. I tried to book an appointment the day after my son was born. They told me the next availability was not for three weeks. If you are unmarried, then both parents need to attend the registration. This means you will have probably returned to work by this time, should your area be as busy as mine. So, just as you are getting into the swing of things, you are asking your boss for more time off. This is a ball ache you can do without. So get the registration appointment booked asap. If you are married, then you can chill, as your wife can do it for both of you.

6) Say no to visitors
Controversial this one, especially if it is your first baby. But try to limit your guests to family and closest friends only in the early days. As soon as you announce to the world that your bundle of joy has finally made his/her appearance, you no doubt be inundated with people who wish to come for a cuddle with your new-born. My advice would be to be selective. Those two weeks you may be able to take off are so special. Spend it together. People you may not have heard from in months suddenly want to come bearing gifts to show you and your baby love, which is great, but try to schedule them for when you are settled in your new life and when you are in some form of routine. In my opinion, family is the most important thing in the world, and now you have a family of your own, you need to protect it. I do not mean in a Male Lion sense, but protect the time you have together. With our first, we had different people most days, and after the two weeks were up, it was suddenly just the three of us again, as everyone had already met our baby.

7) Take photos. Lots of photos
Precious moments need to be captured and cherished. Although my partner claims she looks terrible, I know she looks beautiful and radiant. Take pictures of her when she is unaware, of her being her natural self with the baby. Ask her to take pictures of you too. Take selfies of you both and your little one. Take pictures of those who come to visit.

Me and my Boys

Once I became a parent, it became very apparent to me what that made my parents. They had become Grandparents. As kids, my sister and I lost one of our Grandfather relatively early in our child hood. I have only a handful of photographs of us together, and no actual memories of him. With my dad having Prostate Cancer, I am aware that although he is in good health currently, that may not last forever, therefore any moments he has with my sons, I want to capture them. As heart-breaking as it is, one day those photos and videos will be all my sons have of their granddad, who loves them so so much. The same applies for any relatives and friends who come to see you all. Take pictures. Keep the memories. Your baby will no doubt ask to see them one day.

Also, are you even a dad if you do not get a photo taken of the baby asleep in your arms, whilst you are getting some shut eye yourself?

8) Go out! Within reason! 
Once you are settled and confident, go out into the world with your baby. It will do you all good to get out of the house together. With our first, we started easy, we went for a walk in the park with our little one, and another time decided to go for a bite to eat. Although I felt the most protective I had ever felt, it brought a sense of acceptance that we would be ok at parenting. We probably had a false sense of security second time round, as we went to a shopping mall on day two. Half way round, my partner couldn’t go any further. So my advice is to take it easy, and keep the car closeby!

9)  Have a 'Daddy day'
Even with classes you may have attended and the books you may have read before baby comes along, until you do something just yourself and your baby, you will always depend on your partner a little. Be brave, take the plunge. Book a treat for your partner, a massage, a spa day, hair dressers etc, and have the baby for yourself. It will be down to you to do all the things that your partner will have do day in and day out when you return to work. This will help you see things from her side, when in a few weeks you return from work to see her still in her pyjamas, unwashed, the house turned upside down, and a tearful look in her eye!!

10)  Enjoy it!
Your new born may be a bottle guzzling, burping, sleeping and pooing machine, but hindsight will eventually tell you that it is a time where the hardest thing to deal with is the tiredness. If you can beat that, you have time to really enjoy learning how to become a parent.

The next months will continue to be a rollercoaster. Just enjoy the ride. Before too long your baby will no longer be a newborn, and the next chapter will begin. Cherish your partner, tell her every day how amazing she is, and always tell both your partner and your baby how much you love them.

If you are in this situation, I wish you and your baby nothing but success, with lots of health, happiness, love and laughter. Best wishes to you and your family.

Friday, 11 August 2017

The Boy who United Football...

All around the world, footballers are loved and adored by people of all ages. They are idolised, admired and hero worshipped. Their names are printed on the back of replica kits, so that young boys and girls can imitate their heroes.

In an age, where the top players can earn millions of pounds for simply kicking a ball around, they also take on a responsibility for those that love them. One such player who took his responsibility as a role model to another level, was Jermain Defoe. At the match between Sunderland and Everton the Premier League, a young boy named Bradley Lowery met his hero – the star striker Defoe. That moment, Defoe went further than most footballers meeting mascots. The footballer and the young fan made a friendship which united football fans and people in general, with the love which was clearly apparent between the pair.  

Bradley had been fighting a battle with a form of cancer named Neuroblastoma since he was 18months old. Having beaten the disease once, he was in remission for a number of years before it returned in 2016. His family battled and campaigned to raise vital funds to send him to the US for life saving treatment, but they were given the heart-breaking news that his illness was terminal. So the family vowed to continue to fundraise, and make a foundation in Bradley’s name, to help with the fight for other families affected. Part of the fundraising campaign included Bradley becoming a match day mascot at his beloved Sunderland football club, where he would meet his favourite player Jermain Defoe.

Bradley led the team out on multiple occasions, always holding Defoe’s hand. At times when he was clearly feeling weak, Defoe would carry the little boy in his arms. In the match against Chelsea, he was photographed with the team, and scored a goal which won the ‘Goal of the Month’ competition on the iconic show ‘Match of The Day’. Sunderland players visited Bradley in hospital, with one instance the little boy falling asleep cuddling his hero in bed. Other football clubs and fans offered their support, with Everton donating £200k to the fund to fight for his life, and he was a mascot for them in their match against Manchester City, wearing a Sunderland shirt with ‘Thank You Everton’ on the back.

Coinciding with Defoe’s recall to the England national side, the Football Association invited Bradley be a mascot for the national side. Captain Joe Hart stepped aside and invited Defoe and Bradley to lead the team out at Wembley Stadium. During this time, some beautifully poignant photographs were taken, of Bradley shielding his ears from the noise of the 90,000 crowd singing the national anthem, and turning to hug Defoe. Defoe states that this was a huge honour, and something which was truly special for him in his football career.

After the news broke that Bradley wouldn’t be able to win this fight, Defoe attended his birthday party, and continued to give love and support to the boy and his family, and continued his hospital visits.  

As a father, the story continues to choke me up. To see the love that was genuinely shared between the two is humbling. The way that Bradley looked at Jermain; it was a form of escapism for him. I wonder if Defoe will ever truly know the effect that his love, time, generosity and friendship had on Bradley and his family. Bradley pulled on the heartstrings of the nation. His smile was infectious, and the photos and videos that appeared of him in the football environment, showed a boy who for those moments forgot his was deeply ill. He was able to be the star for a short time, removed from the days spent in hospital. Defoe often said he felt the matches were more special knowing Bradley was in attendance. I am sure for Bradleys family, any time Jermain was able to give to Bradley, was every so more special seeing their little boy's eyes light up once again. Any parent would do anything to take away the pain, and for those moments, I am sure Defoe was able to do that for them, and help their son. It truly brings tears to your eyes to listen to the way Defoe spoke about the friendship. It was real. It wasn't because the PR team at the club told him to do so. It was raw love, raw emotion, raw human instinct in wanting to love and help someone.

Bradley sadly died on July 7th, surrounded by his loving family. Social media accounts of footballers and football clubs offered their condolences and best wishes to the family. After Bradley passed away, Defoe tweeted: “Goodbye my friend, gonna miss you lots. I feel so blessed God brought you into my life and had some amazing moments with you and for that I'm so grateful.  I'll never ever forget the way you looked at me for the first time, the genuine love in those cute eyes. Really finding it hard to express what you mean to me.”

Thousands of mourners lined the route to his funeral, where attendees including Defoe, wore football shirts, with his name on the back, with a message on social media that Football Had No Colours, meaning the football world would come together to remember this brave little boy. His favourite superheroes were in attendance, and balloons were released to the sky.

Although there are hundreds and thousands of gravely ill children around the country who do not get the level of attention that Bradley received, Bradley was able to raise awareness for many of them. His legacy will inspire many people and his foundation has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds, which will go into helping those families. Events are being hosted in his honour, including a celebrity football match at Everton’s Goodison Park ground. Additionally Sunderland donated a corporate box for each match to a family who are going through these struggles, so that the ill child can have this great experience.

In a time where astronomical figures are being spent for footballers, with their earnings and responsibilities in the spotlight, when compared with more everyday life hero's such as those in the Emergency services, it is great to see the human side of the sport. 

Such love, such compassion, such emotion, such support.

RIP Bradley. 

You touched the nation with your strength and your smile. You united football fans throughout the country. My thoughts and deepest sympathies are with your family, friends and your 'best mate' Jermain Defoe, the hero who showed us his human side.

Monday, 31 July 2017

In The End...

Aside from a dislike of elevators, I’ve never been claustrophobic, but as I have gotten older there have been a few instances where I have been overcome with a hot panicky sweat at being trapped somewhere. As I stood in my hospital robes next to the huge MRI scanner, I knew I needed something to focus on during the impending thirty minutes or so that I would be in the confined space. The nurse handed me a sheet of paper with various musical offerings to listen to: Adele – no thanks, Classical Hits – not for me. It didn’t look good. However whilst looking at my options there was only one thing which grabbed my attention; Linkin Park Greatest Hits.

As I laid there in the scanner, the hot panic hit me within a matter of moments. Stuck in this machine, consumed with a anxiety of being trapped. Then, in my headphones came the sounds of Linkin Park. I had envisioned that the music and vocals would drown out the machine as it scanned by brain, but it wasn’t as loud as I was hoping. However, I was able to focus on the music and singing, such a beautiful voice and powerful screams, and I was able to remove myself from that scanner, and take myself back in my memories to seeing them perform live in Abu Dhabi, back in 2010. Soon the sweaty panic passed and before I knew it, about eight songs had played, and the scan had finished. Losing myself in Linkin Park had again got me through a shitty moment in time in my life, which had been on mind since the appointment was booked.

Two days later I learnt via Twitter, that Linkin Park lead singer, Chester Bennington had taken his own life. It hit me like a ton of bricks, another one taken too soon. This man had been a huge part of my life for over fifteen years. I had listened to his music all too regularly. On the train, in the car, on the street, in the gym, or more often than not, when i wasn't feeling too happy in myself.

Like many teenagers, I had a phase where I questioned my existence. I felt low, I felt depressed, I felt worthless. Consumed by anxiety, I had just changed schools, and felt ugly and I felt dumb. I would spend a lot of time alone, and basically felt very sorry for myself.

During a Napster session in 2000 (sorry but we all did it!), I downloaded ‘In The End’ based on how popular the file was. Having not listened to Metal music before I was prepared to delete the file after hearing only a few seconds like I had done with other downloaded songs, however based on the intro alone I knew I would like this particular track. As the song continued, I immediately liked Mike Shinoda’s rap style, and when the chorus came in I had goose pimples. Chester’s voice was like something I hadn’t known before. How could someone sing so beautifully and then let out a real rock element like that? I listened again, and again and again. With each listen I would try to listen carefully to the lyrics. The lyrics to ‘In The End’ served as a release to me. I was able to sing and rap along to the song, which seemed to resonate.

“Ive put my trust in you, pushed as far as I can go, for all this, there’s only one thing you should know. Ive tried so hard, and got so far, but in the end it doesn’t even matter. I had to fall to lose it all, but in the end it doesn’t even matter.”

This chorus made me think of my relationship with so many people. My teachers, my parents, my friends, those I secretly envied and wanted to be like. I was looking to be anyone else but myself.  The song was definitely part of my coming of age, and accepting the person I was. Theres only so much you can do to please others.. I didn’t need to change for anyone else. Other people’s opinions didn’t matter.

Fast forward ten years, and I was living and working in Abu Dhabi, UAE. As the post-race concerts for the Formula1 event were announced, I was delighted to see Linkin Park would be performing, having never seen them live before. Other songs of theirs had become favourites of mine – Numb, Crawling, Papercut, Faint, and One Step Closer to name a few. The day came round and I felt honoured to witness this band perform. It was literally one of the greatest live concerts I had attended. As they played ‘In The End’, the goosebumps came back as they always do to that song, but this time I looked back at all that I have achieved in the ten years from first hearing the track. I felt embarrassed to be in such a large crowd, overcome by emotion. But the beauty of that moment was that I was one of a number of thousands of people relating to that song right there.

Chester’s vocals were as impressive in real life as they were on CD.

Over the years, I have suffered from anxiety, loneliness and depression. As I have aged, I have understood a little more about how to break this feeling and to express myself. So many people have these issues, and music is a great form of escapism. In Linkin Park, I found an outlet who seemed to sing what I was feeling.

 A few weeks ago, a friend posted Facebook live videos of Linkin Park performing live from the O2 arena in London. Little did they know that they were going to be one of the final audiences to witness them live. I was completely jealous that they were there. They sounded awesome. Chester looked and sounded great. Weeks later, and he is no longer with us.

A man who despite his public acknowledgments of depression, seemed to have everything in place around him: a world famous band, millions of adoring fans, a large loving family, the respect of his industry. He had influenced more people than he would ever realise. A voice which gave chills. Only 41 years of age.

Coincidentally the same age that my uncle took his own life who will be Forever In Our Hearts.

Many people have views and thoughts about his final action. But ultimatley it was the demons in his mind that took control. He had spoke about how he had been abused as a child, he fought a long running battle with alcohol and drug addiction. He was open about his depression, and his music really served as a mirror into his world. The suicide of close friend Chris Cornell hit him hard, and he was found dead on the day that would have been Cornell’s birthday.

Much was written about Linkin Park's last record, One More Light. For me, I liked the new sound. I appreciated the difference. Many have called it Chester's suicide note, there for the world to see. Songs like Heavy offer a real insight to his mental state at time of writing. The title track One More Light was written in about a friend who had passed away. It was ever so poignant after the passing of Cornell, especially in the Jimmy Kimmel performance; and the way that LP performed it was as painful and grief filled as you could imagine. Listening to this song after Chester's passing absolutely wrecks me. Such a beautifully true expression of grief in one song. Beyond heartbreaking. You can see his pain within, in the way that Chester performed this in his final gigs, especially the Birmingham show, singing directly to the members of the audience.

Thank you for the music Chester, I wish that you didn’t have to take this tragic course of action. My heart is broken for your family, friends and band mates. I find a slight solace that your children will have so much footage of you at their finger tips, and that your music was an insight into your life. But that does not and will never replace having their daddy in their lives.

It shows the impact that a man had on the world, when millions grieve for the person who they have never personally met. But we all felt we knew you. You leave us with a vast musical catalogue, ensuring that your powerful, vulnerable, angry, emotional voice will forever be heard.

Your passing topped off what had been a pretty shitty week for me. Having been fearful for my health, and learning of the murder of my niece’s father, it pushed me into a level of negativity which I struggled to deal with. So i blogged about it.

There is always someone out there to talk to. If you have suicidal thoughts, seek help.

Who cares if one more light goes out? Well I do.

#FuckDepression #MakeChesterProud

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

She will always remember you. I promise.

It was a surreal moment, when the phone call came through. Little did I know that the subject of the call would consume my mind and heart from then on.

“Oh yeah, what has he done this time?” my partner replied to her middle sister who had phoned, as we were on the way to take our young toddler to football training.

“No fucking way. How? When? Where?”…

She fell silent.

Then came a breakdown; despair, heartache, grief and floods of tears. 

I immediately pulled the car over, trying to interrupt the call by asking what has happened. My partner quickly got out of the car, unable to comprehend the news she was receiving that fateful Saturday morning.

It was in that immediate cuddle to console her that she replayed the news she had received to me.
Her eldest sister’s former partner had been killed in the early hours of the morning; stabbed to death in a robbery after leaving a bar, with his current girlfriend and friends.

Details initially were sparse, but our immediate thoughts went to our much loved five year old niece, whose life was about to be turned upside down, and heart to be broken into a thousand pieces. Five years old. Just a baby. Now due to the actions of another, she would no longer have her Daddy to cuddle and kiss.

Despite the separation, she idolised her father, of whom she is a spitting image. My immediate reaction was to do all that I could to protect her from what the coming hours, days and weeks would and will bring.

During that day, I kept checking Twitter and News feeds. Outlets were beginning to cover the incident as the day wore on. No names were mentioned, however details began to emerge. A man stabbed to death in Greenwich, South East London. There were two attackers, who chased down and attacked the victim with a large knife and firing a gun towards him. They then stole his luxury watch from his wrist as he tried in vain to escape the attackers. The two men dressed in dark clothing then fled on a moped. They had appeared to have been waiting for the group to approach. His friend tried bravely to resuscitate him as they waited for the emergency services to arrive, but it was in vain. I cannot imagine what that must have been like, and I have a huge amount of respect for the friend who tried all he could in such an awful situation. For all of the group to witness what they saw that night, can only be described as horrific, and an event that nobody should ever have to encounter. My thoughts are with you.

We went to my partner’s mother’s house, where we had to pretend that nothing had happened, as our niece played happily with my son. Among us however we were trying to piece together what could have possibly happened. The word ‘surreal’ doesn’t really do enough to describe the atmosphere that morning.

The press obtained the information they needed the following day, after attending the scene of the crime and looking at the name of the victim which had been written in floral tributes by his friends and family. A Chelsea football scarf left at the scene had his surname. Therefore the press had the name they were looking for. At that time, the Police had not named him. Other tributes spoke of peoples love towards him and sorrow for the situation. My partner’s grieving sister had left her own message of love and mourning at the scene, which included a family drawing my niece had done previously of the three of them. On that image, my sister in law had written ‘To Daddy. Love from ….’ and wrote their daughters name. 

From that scene, the Press knew his full name and that he was a father. One over eager photographer was soon lambasted for taking pictures of the grieving group of mourners. Meanwhile the news of the murder had reached people in the local area, and people were leaving their own tributes on social media. Reporters simply then searched Facebook and found posts from people who had left comments of condolence on their open profiles, using a photograph taken some years ago which had been used in peoples comments.  Along with quotes taken from lads who played football with him some years earlier, the photo alongside the name were quickly added to the ever updating news webpages.

I was upset when I saw that the press had used the image that our niece had drawn as the main focus of their articles, but I fully understood that by emphasising he was a father may help encourage witness to speak up, however I did not see the need to name her in the articles. She is five years old. The general public knowing her name does not inform them of anything else urgent about the case. All it does is put her name on the internet for eternity. I therefore spoke to a relative of mine, who works for a news organisation, who promptly arranged for her name to be removed from the imagery and articles. But by then it was too late. Other news outlets had picked it up and were using it too. 

How could I protect her from this? I gathered advice from legal bodies and was advised to make an official press complaint, to attempt to reach out to press organisations to refrain from using her name in future articles.

I recalled a documentary shown by Channel4, ‘A Killing in My Family’ which focused on an amazing charity who help children who have lost someone to homicide. I remember being moved at the time of watching it, never did I think I would be calling them for advice. The lady I spoke to from Winstons Wish was calm and collected. She offered me clear and concise information, and really informed me of the way that our niece would need to be informed of the tragic news.

“You need to inform her of what is required to live. That we need our hearts to continually beat and our lungs to continually breathe. At five years old she will take everything literally. If you say Daddy has gone to be with the angels, she will think there’s a chance he will come back, or that she can just phone him and talk to him. The best way is to tell the story with truths. That a bad person wanted something of daddies, but daddy didn’t want to give it to them. The bad person then hurt daddy with a knife. This caused daddies heart to get weaker and it harder to breathe. That lots of good people then came to help daddy. That they did all that they could. But daddy’s heart stopped beating and his lungs stopped breathing. That he then died.”

My heart was broken. That has got to be the hardest conversation to have. But I saw the logic in the way that they advised to address it. I tweeted celebrity Grief expert Jeff Brazier about the loss, and received some nice personal responses which were appreciated. I bought his book to give to my partners grieving sister, who may in time read it and find some of it useful.

In the days that followed, the Police eventually formally named him in their press releases, alongside a recent photo of him. They also released images from CCTV of the two men they wish to speak to about the murder. Both in crash helmets. In my opinion it would be near on impossible to identify the assailants from these grainy pictures. Hopefully someone out there recognises the bike. The Police released an image of the Rolex that was stolen in the attack. Hopefully if that has been sold on somewhere, it will raise alarms with the buyer etc.

On the Thursday, our niece chose to watch The Lion King for the first time. Despite some reservations, her mum let her watch it. It helped the following day, when she sat her down to agonisingly inform her that her own Daddy had been killed. Her reaction was as expected, and she has subsequently been very quiet. Playing with my son is helping her feel normal, but she questions why he isn’t as sad as she is, not realising that at two years old he is too young to understand. At five she is old enough to understand exactly, but too young to control any emotions. As a family we will get her through this. We have to. She has been wanting to listen and sing along to 'See You Again' by Charlie Puth as she says that Daddy used to sing it in the car. She had her first nightmare about what happened last night, and has asked questions about heaven. My heart is literally broken in pieces for her.

It is still so raw that it doesn’t quite feel real. The police haven’t said too much. They ‘remain open minded’ to the reason for this attack. Was this a simple murder robbery, or was it more orchestrated? Their latest article calls for help.

Only time will tell I guess.

Time is the one thing we all take for granted. If this has taught me anything, it is to always cherish every day and to do all that I can to ensure my loved ones know I love them. The fact that my niece will live the majority of her life without having her daddy by her side absolutely wrecks me.

I hope these men are brought to justice soon. These men are scum. They do not deserve to be free. 

RIP Danny. Despite not being close, rest knowing that I will always be there for your daughter as if she was my own. She will always remember you. I promise. 

It goes without saying, that should you have any information, please tell the police. Anyone who may have information can call the incident room on 0208 721 4005. Or Crimestoppers anonymously 0800 555 111.

Monday, 24 July 2017

A Stream of Consciousness..

As I sit down to allow a brief stream of consciousness to leave my fingertips into my computer, there is a lot that I feel I need to, and can write about at the moment. For quite a while I have struggled with what to write about with this blog. The blog itself has served as my release of emotions when I have needed it to. Although I have dear friends, I do not necessarily have a large network of people around me of whom I can confide in about certain sort of things. Only recently have I found a few people in the workplace who have shown a considerable caring nature towards my happiness, and who have encouraged me to get things off of my chest.

However despite this, I have still avoided writing this post if I am honest.

It is hard to describe to people the emotions I have been feeling in the past ten days or so. Never in my life have I felt so unsure and unsettled, compared to these preceding days.

There have been four huge things which are ongoing which are, and will be, major events in my life.
Then there has been one event which has served as a trigger to my negative mind state. All five together at the same time, and the result is that my head is a little all over the place. So I think it is important that I address them in order to allow myself to fully understand what is going on.

The reasons for this rollercoaster of emotions have been multifaceted. Each of the subjects which are grabbing the focus of my attention are completely personal, relating to my family, and the fear of not being there for them. Old feelings and concerns have been raised, and a sense of trying to manage the grief that others are feeling is overwhelming. 

These feelings have been bouncing around inside my head, crashing against one another, with some dominating the other at times, but with all playing on my mind simultaneously. It feels like a combustible mix that I need to address.

Outwardly I have trying to keep it together, putting on a brave face at times in order to portray an appearance that I am being strong for those around me. However, privately I have needed to get my views out to avoid waves upon waves of downheartedness and negativity consuming me. It is getting harder and harder to shrug off the sadness.

I am planning on addressing each of the five things in my blog in varying degrees.

The first thing was health scare. I have been struggling with and complaining about headaches for a good few months. These headaches were unlike migraines, and were only affecting two specific parts of my head. I had been taking paracetamol to manage these, but concerned at how regular they were occurring. Then over the last few weeks I noticed I was losing the ability to recall certain words in specific situations. Something a mundane as cutting the lawn and I would forget the word for lawnmower for example.  Around the same time I noticed I would drop things quite easily, which was out of character for me. The door keys, my phone, and other everyday objects would slip out of my grasp without me noticing. Then the final incident was a fortnight ago, when I was walking to the train station in the morning, when all of a sudden I was on wet muddy pavement, having fallen over for no apparent reason. This concerned my partner and I, and I googled what the symptoms could be. I know you shouldn’t ever do that. But I am glad I did. I then saw a GP immediately and was referred to a Neurologist who sent me for immediate tests and booked an MRI. The next day I spent 30mins in a MRI machine, listening to Linkin Park’s greatest hits in an attempt to drown out the noise. The results were back that evening, and I was given the all clear in regards to any tumours or things in my brain which shouldn’t be there. This was a relief to say the least. Further examinations will be required, but at least the big scary thing has been ruled out.

Two of the things which I feel I need to talk about are linked and will need to be addressed carefully out of respect for the people involved and the ongoing situation. It is to do with the death of someone in my extended family and the effect of their loss on a specific loved one in particular. The story is a heart-breaking one to tell, and still feels raw and surreal. The incident only happened seven days ago, and not all of the facts have emerged. Some reports are vague, others misleading and there are final parts of the event still to happen. But there are still actions that are needed from me and my family to keep things together for others. I will need to give more thought into that post, than opposed to my usual writing style.
One is a thing I am super excited about, but still completely scared of once again.

The final one will deal with another unexpected loss. However this time to someone I have never met, but whose influence had a huge impact. The way in which this individual died has triggered feelings in me which have caused me to reflect and be saddened by.

Once again, I hope that by writing these blogs, I can feel a sense of release. I feel annoyed at myself for only having this outlet. But it has helped in the past, hopefully it helps again.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Back Where My Story Began...

At the weekend, I celebrated my 34th birthday. I had a number of the boys from my core friendship group, their partners and kids round to our new home for a BBQ in the back garden. My son was delighted to have a host of new playmates to keep him occupied running in and out of the paddling pool, up and down the slide, and in and out of the play room. My partner and I were more than happy to play host. It was a great day and amazing to catch up with the group. Since becoming a father, finding the time and money to have a get together with the boys has been harder to do. My priorities have changed somewhat. When you live on a budget each month, justifying a drinking session with the boys when bills need to be paid becomes problematic. It seems like I only get to see them for big occasions. But I guess that is life now. You do not need to see people every weekend for them to still be in your life.

For the most part, these guys have been in my life for a good ten years or more, some even longer. Our group has evolved in that time, with the main core having gone to school together, and others like me being friends with people within the group and joining the group along the way. We have seen break ups, new partners, weddings, babies, house moves, relocations abroad and many nights out.

But as I turn the grand old age of 34, I am back living in my parents’ house where I grew up, the house which most of my memories are from. The house, where we as a family have celebrated and mourned, where I have loved and lost. The house where I sat with my Grandmother during her final weeks, watching the fox cubs play in the garden. The dining room where I would listen to my Granddad sing aloud, as he listened to the Rat Pack whilst having a beer after his Christmas dinner. The kitchen with the fridge I would raid, as soon as my Mum had filled it with the weekly shop. The house where my Dad would give me piggy backs up the stairs as a kid. The house with the small box bedroom, where I would spend hours questioning everything, developing my own views and ideas about what I would do with my life.

I am back where my story began. Back home.

I am extremely grateful to now raising my own family there. My young son at two years old, exploring the world around him, chasing the squirrels and pigeons from the garden, my amazing partner who is always there for us, growing our unborn second baby, who will be ready to make their grand entrance in August. My parents, having relocated to a quieter life a few hours outside of London, have been amazing to give me a chance to save some money so that we can one day afford our ‘Forever Home’. We currently, as a family have the chance to make our own memories. I hope that my birthday BBQ in my back garden is the first of many great ones in my old house.

With moving back to where I was raised, I have been thinking more about old friends and the good times. We were a good bunch of boys united by our love of football and as we got older, beer, parties and girls. It is easy to reflect and remember stories about our childhood and teenage years.

I had many birthday parties in that same back garden. The best of which has to be in the summer of 1999, for my 16th Birthday. It came at the end of a week where our group had been sitting our GCSE exams, and only a few weeks after a local car crash which had resulted in the loss of five young lives, including a really popular boy from the year above. There were easily over 50 teenagers in that garden, with a DJ, loud music and lots of drinking, dancing and laughing. We were enjoying being young. That night we really did party like it was 1999! Our neighbours can’t have approved, as the police were called and we were told to turn the volume down. I was lucky to have various friendship groups in attendance that night. Friends from Primary school, from Secondary school, from the local area, all came together to have a great time. A night that will live with me forever.

My oldest friends were from Primary school. All local to one area, the majority of our Fathers knew each other. We were allowed to drink in the local pub from the age of 15, as the owners placed the responsibilities of our actions to our Dads. The day we collected our GCSE results, we were in the Crossways pub, in South East London, comparing our results. By the day I was able to buy my first legal pint of lager, I had been a regular in the pub for around three years. That can be said for all of us in that group which had evolved from the local Primary school. Every Thursday for Karaoke without fail. By the end, the youngsters had taken over the pub on a Thursday, as it was so busy with under age drinkers!

As I have said in a previous blog post, I have time for anyone who has time for me. Years may pass, but the memories, love and respect will always be there. The group from my earliest memories will always be linked to my first home, and have played a huge part in my life. Over the years, I have lost regular contact with many of those boys. However, the bond is always there and in my opinion always will be. I had a great lunch catch up with one of my best friends from Primary school days today. We laughed as remembered various stories, and how we discussed the people we once knew around that time. For the most part, everyone in that group has found a form of happiness and relative success. It is good to know we have done well. Those days in the Crossways Pub must have served us well.