My mum’s sausage rolls.

I grew up with avid foodie parents who loved nothing more than trying to outdo each other in the kitchen.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times my father demonstrated how to crack open and dress a crab. Seafood was his speciality and our Sunday tea usually consisted of crab, brown shrimps, winkles and cockles, salad and brown bread and butter and was utterly delicious.

My mum was a different story. Much as she tucked into the seafood with us, her heart was elsewhere and her absolute speciality was and still is making the most perfect shortcrust pastry you have ever tasted. It is a simple thing but done correctly is a thing of beauty.

She created numerous pie and tarts but the thing we loved most as a family – particularly my dad – was her sausage rolls. He was crazy about that combination of shortcrust pastry and filling.

It’s more usual to make a sausage roll using flakey or puff pastry but mum always favoured shortcrust and I have to say I still definitely prefer it.

Other essential ingredients are of course a good quality free range pork sausagemeat, pinch of mixed herbs and a grated onion, and a beaten egg for glazing.

Needless to say, this recipe has been passed on to me and my daughter now loves them the same way my father did. If she sees me making them she will let out a squeal of delight and rush over to try and ‘help’ me roll out the pastry (most of this ends up in her mouth). I imagine she’ll be making them herself before too long. Maybe with her own daughter.

Time marches on and my father sadly died this year but at the end of last year when he was getting frail and not eating very much, he and my mother came to stay and he asked if she would make some of her famous sausage rolls. We were both so pleased that he wanted to eat something – and seeing that my mother was tired I immediately jumped in and offered to make them instead.

“Ooh yes please! Can I help?”, came the cry from my daughter peeping round his bedroom door, so off we two went and made mum’s famous sausage rolls.

When they were done and we were all tucking into them around my dad’s bed, he took a bite, turned to my mum and said “Do you know I think this pastry might be even better than yours”…

I’ll never forget the look on her face or the smile on his. Priceless.

Thanks for all the laughs dad.

And Happy Father’s Day.

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Always be by your side.

Photo by Lili Gooch

Photo by Lili Gooch

A few months back my 4 year old daughter astonished me by suddenly opening her eyes as she was drifting off to sleep and whispering “I’ll always be by your side Mama.” She gave me a sweet little smile afterwards and I was so taken aback that it brought tears to my eyes.

It’s not something I had heard from her before, nor is it a phrase I use so it was surprising and delightful to me. I will never forget it and for a time, it became a bit of a theme for us. We would say it to each other when perhaps previously we would have said “I love you”. It also became something of a weapon in times of conflict… “I don’t love you, and I’m not going to always be by your side” she would emphatically inform me, incandescent with rage over something I had done. My usual response would be “That’s a shame but I still love you and will still always want to to be by your side” But there were no concessions from her at times such as these.

Eventually we forgot about our little phrase and went back to the normal “I love you mama, up to the moon and back” that we had used for years.

And then something happened.

Her grandfather (my father) died and we were all thrown into the chaos of profound grief and bereavement while also attempting the day to day stuff of normal family life. Somehow I was supposed to carry on parenting when I felt like a child myself.
I did try to explain to her that there would times when mummy and daddy got a bit sad over this event and that it was ok if she did too; but this only served to make her feel guilty that she wasn’t as sad as us so I backed off it a bit. I was also worried about the funeral and the carnival of grief that would surround it, but she was surprisingly fine. She admired the flowers, took out her little box of crayons and colouring book, a few My little Ponies and grinned at everyone. She even said “Ooh I like your dress!” to one of my aunties.
For me, it was a day of joyous celebration of everything my father was and in the main I was pretty upbeat and happy to remember him… except for one tiny moment when I wasn’t and I faltered. Quick as a flash a little hand slid into mine and pulled me round to face her. She was smiling so broadly that I couldn’t help but smile back. It totally lifted me and after a second, a little voice rang out “Don’t worry Mama, I’ll always be by your side.”

Kissing

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We kiss our sons – endlessly.

We kiss them pretty much at every opportunity and anywhere that we can reach – neck, tummy, feet, toes, bottom, back, legs, arm, head, back of their hands, all over their faces and of course on their lips. In fact if we are kissing each other in a good morning greeting or at bed time or even an embrace throughout the day it would feel strange not to kiss them on the lips.

My partner and I were kissed as children by both our parents (which isn’t as obvious to some as we may assume) and we don’t think twice about it with our sons. In fact if I stop and consider it at all I would say that we saw it as a bit of a short cut to bonding and attachment and a way of showing them that we were open emotionally to them right from the start.

We were lucky because they are cuddly little boys who are clearly as happy with this intimacy as we are and it was obvious that they were right from the moment we were brought together (of course it may not be appropriate for all adopted children – especially when first placed).

However we have been surprised to discover that some of our friends are a little uncomfortable with our overt shows of affection, especially the kissing on the lips. We are even more surprised that it is in fact our fellow gay friends who apparently have the biggest problem with it.

What’s that about? Thinking about it I wonder if it is the result of years of oppression and a forced need to be discrete with displays of male on male affection, or even worse a reaction against that shameful and totally ignorant linking of homosexuality and peadophilia and a fear that a man kissing a boy could be blurring the lines in the minds of the pathetic, mindless bigots.

Actually here in the UK there seems to be huge confusion about the whole ‘kissing thing’ in general and for the majority there seems to be a reluctance to kiss anybody in any situation.

For me when growing up in the 60’s/70’s kissing on the mouth was very much a ‘family’ thing, extended family all kissed as an hello or goodbye, with certain members stealing locked lipped smooches from us kids any time in between – I guess this was especially true from Grandmothers and Aunties. There became a point/age when the men stopped kissing the kids and this interestingly included my father, but I can’t say I recall exactly when that was, but I would estimate around the time we became teenagers. Do straight dads became scared that it is just too gay or just not manly enough?

Then I moved to London and found myself surrounded by friends from all over the world and I soon discovered that greeting somebody outside the family with a kiss was actually expected of certain cultures – but of course never on the mouth. I also discovered that it had been adopted by the gay community and was a standard greeting amongst gay friends.

I’m a tactile person and I liked this and made a conscious decision to embrace it – at least when greeting women or gay friends whom I encountered throughout my day – and I have attempted to make a peck on both cheeks my form of greeting ever since, which over the years I have become aware of as being taken up by many others Brits.

Yet this now leads to such confusion. My family – especially the older members immediately felt a bit offended that I was ‘avoiding’ kissing them on the mouth and thought that I was going all ‘continental ‘ on them and getting a bit above my station.

English friends who I had never greeted with a kiss previously were clearly shocked to have me move in on their space and plant a smacker on their cheek – it was actually barely a touching of cheeks, but one would have thought it was a French kiss by the reaction of some.

And clearly not all people I encountered were as comfortable with it as I am, but how do you know who is and who isn’t, how do we know what greeting is expected of us? This lack of a standard way of greeting in the UK is frustrating and at times even embarrassing.

So what are we suppose to do? I reckon the only way is to go for it with what you are most happy with and stand your ground, I appreciate that it may be uncomfortable for some, but I do feel that they need to ‘get with the programme’.

I think it’s fair to say that as a nation we have a history of being very sexually repressed which I think is the route of the issue here. However, surely things have moved on and in these times of such sexually abandon where just about anything goes isn’t it confusing that a civilised, human greeting such as a peck on the cheeks is still considered questionable and for some inappropriate?
P.S. This blog was written months ago, but it suddenly seems very topical following the outrage and consequent debate around a beautiful photo (bouncing around social media this week) of Victoria Beckham kissing her 5 yr old daughter – on the mouth.

It made me realise that the issue is clearly not just a gay one and that it is quite definitely all about sex, from reading various ‘opinions’ and listening to the subject being debated it was obvious to me that those who have an issue with it do so because of their inability to separate a loving and affectionate parental kiss from a kiss of passion between sexual partners.

To us ‘kissers” this is shocking – and indeed pretty offensive – because of course there is absolutely NO sexual connotation – on any level – to us kissing our children, just as there isn’t when parents touch their children or hug their children – both of which are surely as much a part of a sexual embrace as kissing.

According to a physiologist (who I heard discussing this on the radio) kissing on the mouth is almost exclusively to do with upbringing, if you were brought up being kissed on the mouth then chances are you will continue that.

I have to say that from my perspective I feel very lucky to be in that group and to be able to pass that onto my children.

I feel that our world is SO much richer as a consequence.

Listen Closely

 

20150716_102245I recently met a beautiful and totally delightful 11-year-old girl who at the age of 10 – after a long and very difficult struggle – had finally managed to make her parents realise and accept that the male body she was born into was wrong and that she was indeed female.

The parents shared with me the terrible time they had coming to terms with this reality and how they now realise that they had seriously failed the child that they loved so very much for so long because of their own ignorance and prejudice.

They explained that their resistance to accept the truth had caused the daughter so much unhappiness and distress and that it had resulted in her becoming ill and developing stress-related alopecia and then how it had simply gone away once they listened to her and allowed her to be the person she knew herself to be.

As a parent this conversation touched me greatly. And as a parent of a child whose genes I do not share maybe even more so. It made me realise the huge responsibility we have to listen to our children and to respect that they have a voice, to comprehend that they may not be the ‘mini-mes’ we want them to be, nor the people we expect them to be and, most importantly, that it just can’t matter.

Whoever they are and whatever they are is a fact. We can teach them to understand and appreciate social mores and expectations and we can equip them to be the best they can possibly be within the framework that society lays down, but we can’t stop them being who they truly are. And even if we could, what on earth right would we have to do so?

We can educate our children to understand and appreciate our lives and the way we live them, but we can’t change their being to suit us, to suit our extended family, to suit our friends, our neighbours, our religion. Maybe we can influence them, maybe we can bully them into our ideals, or to meet our expectations or our beliefs, but does that change the people who they truly are? Or does it just result in them hiding their true selves to meet our selfishness, potentially confusing them and no doubt making them hugely unhappy in the process?

I wonder how many of us parents can look back at how we were brought up – and what we inevitably bring into our own parenting to some degree – and recognise just how strongly we were expected to live up to our parents’ expectations and how wrong that was for us.

I for one wish that I had been able to stand up for myself and say – ‘NO, listen to ME. That is NOT me, that is NOT what I want and that is NOT who I am’ – but as a child I was never given that chance, was simply chastised for trying to be true to myself and made to feel guilty for disappointing my parents’ impossible expectations.

Of course we have to make sure our children know right from wrong; we have to make sure that they are good citizens who abide by the law and respect others as they would wish to be respected. It is our responsibility to arm them well to take their place in the adult world, but surely only as the adults that they know themselves to be.

I now look back and realise that over the years I have been around a number of parents who I think did wrong by their child/children by forcing their own ‘needs’ or their own agenda upon them. That has left me as a parent wondering if I will be able to hear my children when they need me to, if I will really listen to them when confronted with something that I would struggle with or simply does not suit my expectations.

I certainly hope that I can and if required: I truly hope that I do. Of course for their sakes – but equally for mine.

P.S. I guess it is not going to be as easy as I had hoped it would be. A short time after writing this, I was having a conversation with a parent about their child (who has been privately educated) not wanting to go on into further education, and I found myself saying, “Well of course he has to go to university. The investment you have made has been huge and what will his future hold without a degree?”. To which I was quite rightly told “I know my child and he is not remotely academic. This is not about money; it is about him knowing himself and about me respecting that”.

Impressions

20150813_091346So, recently I’ve started to muse on my qualities as both a human being and a father. Why do I react the way I do to certain stimuli? What is it that makes me feel a certain way? How much of my angst-ridden crap am I inadvertently passing to my daughter? Am I a good person? Do I want my daughter to be like me?

To the latter, yes; in some very important ways. I want her to enjoy being silly; I want her to dance around like a mentalist, sticking her tongue out, blowing raspberries and laughing herself into a collapse as much when she’s 50 as she does now. I want her to have conversations in languages that don’t exist with people who know what she isn’t talking about and can join in unfettered by social mores as much when she’s 50 as she does now. I want her to eventually like sprouts, preferably way before she’s 50. I want her to understand that licking the yoghurt out of the bowl instead of using a spoon is probably not the right thing to do when you’re at a dinner party when you’re 50 (but that she can carry on doing it at home when nobody’s looking). I want her to carry on dressing her teddy-bear up in women’s clothes even though he’s a he, and if she wants to still be doing that at 50, more power to her.

But in other ways, no. I don’t want her to carry around guilt, ever, for anything. I don’t want her to be the kind of person that loses old friends because she doesn’t take the time not to. I don’t want her to question who she is, or if she’s a good person, or to be scared of expressing what she’s feeling. I don’t want her to know the pain of loss.

But she will. I know that. It’s part of life. The only thing I can really do is to be there for her and fill her with faith that I will listen, understand, offer advice when asked, keep my mouth shut when not, and ultimately whatever else may happen, fill her soul and mind with the knowledge and the feeling that she is utterly loved, without conditions. That’s all I can do. And really that’s as much as I can do.

Oh, and of course remember the Tickling Tree and bring it up constantly in front of her friends.

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas #10: The most wonderful time of the year.

ImageThis is tough time of year for some people. Adverts telling us we need to buy this or that for our loved ones; tinsel and Christmas decorations adorn every nook and cranny; Christmas songs stream relentlessly through pipes in every shop and down the high street, telling us it’s the most wonderful time of the year. And for most of us, it might well be, once you factor out the stress of it all.

But for some, it’s a tough time. It’s the anniversary of my Dad’s death; my uncle died a week ago; my sister is spending Christmas in hospital.

These are not things that impact only me; my wife knows and understands how this time of year has become somewhat difficult for me, but it’s hard on her especially when a few years ago I would have been jumping around with excitement in the run-up to Christmas and now she might feel that she has to top up the excitement quotient for both of us. Don’t get me wrong – there is excitement, particularly for our daughter, but it’s been tempered for me somewhat by the coincidence of circumstances.

But if I think about what this time of year actually means to me, underneath all the glitz and shimmer and food and drink and merriment, it’s about sparing a thought, or doing a deed, for those who struggle with the gaiety of Christmas, who are harbouring sadness or grief, who are putting a happy face on loneliness, depression, heartache or day-to-day struggles, and reminding myself of the blessings in my life. It’s about truly being with the ones I love, even if not all of them can be there. It’s about relishing those moments when I see joy on other people’s faces and allowing that joy to banish all other feelings. It’s about remembering the happy times with loved ones no longer with us and the warmth and comfort those memories bring; it’s about being in the moment and embracing the joy of this special holiday.

Oh yes; and it’s about getting that Ferrari my daughter said she would buy me with the change in her money jar. It’s the thought that counts.

Hand in Hand

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How could I have known just how much emotion it could contain?

How could I have prepared myself for the sheer pleasure and intimacy of something so simple?

How could I have anticipated the intensity of such a natural act, or have predicted the purity of the love?

I am sitting with one of my sons and we are simply holding hands.

No conversation, we are not even looking at each other.

He came and sat beside me and gently nestled his little hand into mine – immediately uniting us with a so very precious bond.

Just sitting holding hands.
We may not share blood, but that is all it takes to fill me with an unadulterated love that is so totally complete.

A love that feels different from anything I have experienced before.

A love that is unconditional. A love about forgiveness, about protection, about teaching, about leading by example, a love that is ALL about giving.

A love that is everything.
Together in our forever family.
Together – Hand in Hand.