On this day II

Timehop is an app you plug your social media accounts into and each day it gives you back your posts from that day in the past.

This morning a quote popped up from 7 years ago.

“You cannot live when you are untouchable. Life is vulnerability.” – Édouard Boubat.

What was I doing 7 years ago – or feeling – which made this relevant? I wish I could remember. Is it still relevant now?

For a long time I was a closed book. Often described as or accused of being cold, hard, harsh. Much of this goes back to ancient times. I’ve written much about my Dad and how he impacted my ability to form ‘normal’ relationships. If you don’t feel you cannot be hurt. It took me many years to drop my walls and allow people in. It took me decades to be comfortable with giving someone the keys to my heart. Years to trust someone, to love and be loved in return.

Seven years ago was the first time I was truly happy and comfortable living with someone and loving someone. And trusting them to love me right back. The good and the bad. Sadly I lost that person, but I didn’t lose me.

When Clare died I hurt. It was a physical pain and I despised that feeling as much as I embraced it. That pain meant I felt something. That anguish at loss meant there was hope.

Tennyson said, ‘tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,’ and there is truth in those words which I didn’t want to accept when I loved and lost Clare.

I learned so much from her during our time together. She made me a better person. She taught me to be more accepting of my faults, more accepting of the faults of others. More capable of loving someone and more capable of accepting someone might love me.

Those lessons are as relevant now, seven years later, as they were back then, and perhaps this echo from the past serves as a timely reminder. I’m home with my family. With a woman I love and who inexplicably loves me. Through good times and bad times we have stuck together. There’s been challenges we have overcome and I’m sure there will be many more in the future. I’m not untouchable like I once was. I’m vulnerable and through that vulnerability I’ve found a life worth living. 


The second greatest game of all time

Released on 22 Sep, 2004, Rome: Total War is the God of all strategy games. I have clocked up 600 hours on the Steam version of the game but I estimate I’ve probably played closer to 2000 hours overall since buying the original boxed game on release way back in 2004. I still remember going through a three disc install and then patching before being able to play. I remember absorbing the included campaign map whilst exchanging discs before loading up the game and starting my first campaign. Just look at this map! (click it to load a huge version)

Rome was the first Total War game to feature a 3D map and 3D units (the units in Medieval and Shogun were sprite-based). Gameplay was a combination of turn-based on the campaign map and real time battles when two armies met. The number of units available numbered in the dozens with infantry, cavalry, missile troops and siege engines all featuring. As you moved up the tech-tree the units improved. Seeing a battle line formed by hard-hitting Roman Legionnaires with archers arrayed behind them and cavalry ready to flank unsuspecting enemies was a joy to behold. The number of tactical options on the battlefield simply never got old or boring.

In Rome you play as one of three Roman families. Each has a similar unit make up with minor differences in unique units appearing later in the game. At the start you’re allied with the other families despite them being rivals. The ultimate goal is to see to it that your family rules in Rome so it’s a judgement call whether you should support the other Roman families against mutual enemies. If they grow strong the inevitable civil war will be more difficult but having their support early game is useful.

The real joy on Rome though was the option to play as one of Rome’s enemies. In total there were twenty-one factions, four Roman (including the Roman Senate) and a number of others which became playable if you destroyed them in a campaign. Many of the other factions could be unlocked by playing about with the game files and there are mods allowing you to play all including the rebel/barbarians. For me it was mighty Carthage which took prime of place. Defending against Rome as they attempted to invade Sardinia and Sicily was always a pleasure, and turning the table and invading the Italian peninsula made for some impressive adventures.

But Rome was not just battles. Each faction had a family tree featuring elite general units. These could turn the tables in a battle but also proved to be effective managers offering boosts to production as well as siring more offspring to further and strengthen the family line. Do you commit your faction leader to a battle knowing his battle prowess will be welcome against the enemy or keep him safe so that more generals can be born and grow to lead future generations? The number of times a high-ranking general being killed in battle has changed your fortunes in the game are numerous.

Diplomats could form alliances and trade deals or bribe armies to join your side, spies could gather information on enemy cities and armies or create revolt within cities, whilst assassins could kill of characters before they got to fight or could destroy key structures weakening the enemy behind the lines. There are so many different ways to play Rome that each play through was different.

Rome was the third game in the Total War series. Since then eleven more games have been released each technically superior to the previous iteration, but there is nothing like Rome. Complex yet simple enough to pick up it could take many hours to master. I have tried many of the later Total War titles but always return to Rome.

All about Tom

Today is Tom’s birthday. He’s thirteen and growing up too quick. I asked what he wanted for his birthday and he said he just wants money so he can put it towards a new Xbox since his is ‘glitching’ badly. He will get a card and it will be stuffed with cash. I think, sometimes, that all I can give to him is money. Perhaps it is a sign of his age now but he doesn’t seem interested – much – in doing anything other than playing Xbox and going out with his mates. Dad gets relegated to a supporting act; I know this and I expected this, but it still stings.

I still remember the day he was born. Mum went into surgery and left my boy and I for a few hours. I held this new life in my arms and knew that at that moment I loved him unconditionally. I promised, silently, to always love and support him and to do my very best for him. I don’t think I have kept that promise. I wish things were better between us. Due to my job and the rigours of shift work I don’t see him as often as I should. I feel guilt about that but when I do see him its often difficult to know what to say to a teenager. What do you talk about? I don’t feel like we have very much in common and I get a feeling that when we are together he can’t wait to get home again.

Tom is very attached to his mother. We went through an arduous series of meetings with CAMHS to try and understand what is going on in his head. Tom played along but wasn’t invested. I want to push him to realise his full potential but I feel it is too late and he never will. His mother is the primary influencer and, whilst I know she loves him totally I don’t feel she is the best influence on him. I want him to be an independent, adventurous, inquisitive soul but instead he’s a home bird and still essentially attached to the apron strings.

Maybe one day he will reject the status quo and venture out on his own but as I type this, on the thirteenth anniversary of his birth, he won’t even sleep over here or at a friend’s house. We tried to understand why; that was the purpose of the CAMHS meetings but it didn’t make any difference.

What to do, what to do. I feel as if his development is being restricted by his attachment to his Mum. He plays up for her and she panders to him. I won’t and I think that is perhaps one of the reasons why he doesn’t like to stay here. Children need structure and routine. His routine revolves around his bedroom, his Xbox, and staying up until 3am before sleeping all morning and getting up in the afternoon. This whole coronavirus lockdown situation hasn’t helped as it played right into his hands. When he was required to stay in that suited him perfectly. I’d like him doing sports and clubs and activities which don’t consist of playing GTA V until the early hours.

I have to take some responsibility for the situation. When I left his Mum I caused this mess and I have never been able to fix it despite my attempts to do so. I believe we both want the best for him but neither of us can provide it. She lacks the strength to go against his wishes and I lack any influence to push him down a better path.

The future is uncertain but fills me with worry. What on earth should I do about Tom?

Social Media

On 30th December 2019 I posted the following message on Instagram along with a photo of my children and I.

“Happy New Year to all. I’m taking 2020 off social media (here and Facebook). See you in 2021”

I haven’t made it to the end of 2020 without returning to social media, but I have given it a good run. Almost eight months in the wilderness has been revelatory.

I wrote before about life through a social media lense. About how we’re all so glued to a small screen that we miss the big world around us:

Standing there with my boy’s arms around my neck just watching the display I realised that this is what is important. It’s not about what we can commit to electronic memory to be forgotten as soon as it’s happened, it’s about what we can feel and remember. What we can share with those people who matter to us.

So next time you experience something. Next time there is an event. Put away your phone. Hold those who matter to you close, and simply enjoy the sensation of sharing a time and place. You’ll get more from that act of intimacy than you ever will from your Instagram picture or your tweet.

The self-imposed ban gave me an opportunity to reassess what is important in life. These are the things I’ve learned:

Do not judge your popularity by your friends list. Many social media ‘friends’ are just numbers on a screen. True friends will remain true even if they cannot click ‘like’ on your Facebook post.

Do not compare yourself to Instagram ‘models’. For every selfie that makes it onto Instagram a hundred are rejected. People only let you see what you want them to see. If you compare your just woke up bed hair to the thrice-filtered selfie on the small screen you’ll never realise just how beautiful you are.

There is no such thing as a perfect family. For every wonderful day trip there’s five days of domestic chores and workplace boredom.

People are brave from behind their keyboards. Happy to threaten and abuse when anonymous; cowardly in person.

Life is not a popularity contest. Better to have five true pals than a legion of fair weather friends.

Twitter is not life. You’re beautiful regardless of what Instagram tells you. Facebook is irrelevant. You are not your follower count.

Your proudest moment

There are a few obvious milestones in life which people will typically think of as their proudest moment. The birth of a child, for example. Or that child graduating from university. Mine are both too young. These are things which stand out as obvious proud moments and when I sat looking at this prompt I got to thinking. Should I be proud of a birth? My efforts were small compared to the efforts of Mum. She carried baby for nine months and nurtured life. She went through labour whilst I stood and watched feeling foolish. Is that something I should be proud of? Billions upon billions of men have become dads. Proud? Perhaps. Proudest moment? Greatest achievement? Perhaps not.

I considered whether my decision to join the police and my acceptance into ‘The Job’ would be my proudest moment. Of course I was proud! Thousands applied when I did and only 26 were successful. That is an achievement to be proud of for sure but it is just the start of a career which could be stellar or mediocre. Thus far I feel like I fall into the latter and are yet to realise my full potential.

There is one event which stands out for me and it is simple and singular. Personal between me and one other.

One day walking through the town centre doing some shopping; performing general, ordinary day-to-day activities I was approached be a man. He said,

“Excuse me, I am sorry to bother you, but I just wanted to shake your hand and say thank you. You see, you probably don’t recognise me but I recognised you straight away. Six months ago you came to my house when I was having a tough time. You sat with me and you spoke to me and you made me feel like I had something to live for. I wanted to end my life that day but you made me stop and consider. Thanks to you I am still here. I cannot thank you enough and I just wanted you to know.”

At that he thrust his hand out and I shook it – bewildered – and he walked away. I didn’t even get an chance to reply before he was lost in the crowds. I never saw him again. It took me some time to remember the day he was talking about but eventually I did and I was able to put a face to a name. I never chased it up. I left him to get on with his life. I appreciated his kind gesture as he appreciated my intervention.

You see, we do things in life that have an impact. My time with this man meant he was still living. He was still alive. Even if I go to my deathbed having never achieved anything in my life and in my career I will always know that once upon a time, through words and kindness, I saved a life.

What are you reading now?

Confession: I thought that this Chris Taylor (the author) was this Chris Taylor, the legendary games developer. Oh how I cringed with embarrassment when I tweeted him! Let’s move swiftly on. What am I reading now?

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise

As a true Star Wars fanboy/nerd/geek I adore everything to do with George Lucas’ epic saga. I recently wrote about my favourite movies and The Empire Strikes Back, the second (or fifth!) movie in the series features in a list of three. I’ve watched all the movies, I’ve played almost all the games, I’ve collected the collecitbles, I have read dozens of Expanded Universe novels, I even named my child Lucas George. I have lived and breathed Star Wars for as long as I can recall.

When I saw this book over on Amazon I immediately clicked ‘BUY NOW’.

Why do most people know what an Ewok is, even if they haven’t seen Return of the Jedi? How have Star Wars action figures come to outnumber human beings? How did ‘Jedi’ become an officially recognised religion? When did the films’ merchandising revenue manage to rival the GDP of a small country? Tracing the birth, death and rebirth of the epic universe built by George Lucas and hundreds of writers, artists, producers, and marketers, Chris Taylor jousts with modern-day Jedi, tinkers with droid builders, and gets inside Boba Fett’s helmet, all to find out how STAR WARS has attracted and inspired so many fans for so long. ‘It’s impossible to imagine a Star Wars fan who wouldn’t love this book. There are plenty of books about Star Wars, but very few of them are essential reading. This one goes directly to the top of the pile’  ~ Booklist

The book starts with Taylor’s quest to find a true Star Wars virgin and his attempts to find one at a screening of Star Wars translated into the language of the Navajo native american tribe. It seems that Star Wars has seeped into popular culture the world over; even people who have never seen the movies can reel off the names of characters, planets, droids and ships. It seems that everyone knows that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father.

If you are a fan of Star Wars and want to understand more of how this project which nobody believed in became a global phenomenon this is a good place to start.

Highly recommended.



Top three movies

This is a tough call. It would be impossible to say just how many movies I’ve see and how many of them I have enjoyed or which have influenced my likes, interests and passions. How to choose just three from hundreds? This isn’t going to be the three ‘best’ movies as I’m no movie critic or student/scholar of cinematography. There are better movies than these listed. Much better, but these reluctant three are the ones which stand out for me.

“What we do in life echoes in eternity.” — Maximus

Gladiator. Released in the year 2000 Gladiator was my first DVD purchase when DVD was the highest of high tech. Ridley Scott’s epic has it all. A classic tale of good vs evil. A revenge story with enough superbly captured action sequences to cover up the often-obvious plot issues. Brilliantly filmed from the initial Roman army ‘unleashing hell’ to the final showdown between Maximus, the hero of Rome, and a snivelling, whiney Emperor Commodus.

Gladiator tells the story of the general who became a slave, the slave who became a gladiator, the gladiator who defied an emperor. It starts by offering a glimpse at the world’s first superpower at war. The roman army with its superior technology engages in battle with Germanic barbarians and we see Maximus at his best. As a man of the people, a general respected. Someone who cares about the fighting man. With Hans Zimmer’s triumphant soundtrack accompanying the cavalry charge giving way to soft strings and low horns as the dust from battle settles, the audience cannot resist buying into the charm and charisma of our hero. Enter Commodus who misses both battle and war and is seen as the whiney and weak soon-to-be Emperor he becomes. Commodus committing patricide is the final act dooming him to become the hated villain of the piece.

Gladiator does a cracking job of chronicling the fall and rise of Maximus. His time in the provinces under the tutelage of ex-gladiator Proximo sets the perfect counter to the grandiosity of the Roman Colosseum.

When Proximo and Maximus return to Rome to fight in Commodus’ games the CGI representation of the now partially ruined Colosseum is a beautiful sight to behold. The series of pitched battles and epic one-on-one fights which punctuate a classic tale of revenge are a joy. Throughout Maximus can do no wrong in the eyes of both the modern audience and that which is portrayed on screen. He is the hero of Rome:

“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son. Husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”

Gladiator never claims to be anchored in realism and both story and set pieces are far fetched, but the CGI shots of ancient Rome are stunning, Hans Zimmer’s score stirring, Maximus’ quest for revenge appealing, and Commodus a villain we all love to hate.

“No. I am your father.” — Darth Vader

Of all the movies released from the Star Wars franchise, The Empire Strikes Back is the stand out title. It’s the first of the original trilogy not directed by George Lucas with Irvin Kershner taking the helm (thanks Scooter for the correction). Episode V retains all the magic and wonder of A New Hope but has darker undertones which are not repeated in Star Wars movies until Revenge of the Sith was released 20 years later.

The setting of the movie replicates the darkness found within the story; from the inhospitable ice world of Hoth and the dank swamps of Dagoba to the dark underside of Cloud City on Bespin. These settings frame a story where the evil empire is poised to crush the rebellion, where our hero’s destiny is revealed, where friend betrays friend and Darth Vader reveals himself to be Luke’s father.

This revelation now ubiquitously known by both Star Wars fans and Star Wars virgins.


The Empire Strikes Back appeals to me in many respects because I always loved the ethos and aesthetic of the Galactic Empire. I always – and in no way secretly – cheer for the bad guy. This perhaps speaks volumes about my character!

This movie hits my list because it was really the gateway to science fiction for me. Sci-Fi is my go-to genre for movies, TV, books, games. For anything entertainment I’ll take Sci-Fi over fantasy over drama over true life. From Star Trek to Warhammer 40k to Iain M. Banks’ the Culture series, I’ll always Veer (and not in the General sense) towards science fiction. As well as being my introduction to Star Wars and the Expanded Universe*, Empire Strikes Back opened up an entire genre to me. This might explain why the third spot on this list was a toss up between The Matrix and…
* the Expanded Universe (abbreviated EU), encompasses every one of the licensed, fictional background stories of the Star Wars universe, outside of the original six Star Wars films produced by George Lucas and certain other material such as Star Wars: The Clone Wars, created before April 25, 2014.

“Game over man! Game over! What the fuck are we going to do now? What are we gonna do?” — Private Hudson

Aliens. Not Alien, the 1979 science-fiction horror movie, but rather its sequel, the 1986 science-fiction war movie directed by James Cameron.

Here we have the perfect storm. A relentless adversary, a rag-tag band of marines sent in to deal with the xenomorph infestation and probably the strongest ever female character ever committed to celluloid.

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley is superb. She is everything a movie hero should be. Strong yet gentle, brave in the face of fear and resourceful. Aliens drew inspiration from the Vietnam War where a technologically superior force becomes mired in a hostile foreign environment. All their training and high-tech equipment mean nothing in a fight against a determined and numerous enemy. It’s a clear allegory of the Vietnam quagmire. A war movie; a Vietnam War movie dressed up in a futuristic science fiction setting which is gritty and realistic unlike, for example, Star Trek’s clean and pure lines.

There is so much to love about Aliens. The utilitarian aesthetic of the USS Sulaco and the weaponry of the Colonial Marines, the implacable Xenomorph bogeyman (one was terrifying in Alien; hundreds are dreadful in Aliens), the sheer monstrous size of the Queen, the climatic battle between Queen Alien and Queen Ripley (“Get away from her, you bitch!) and the dialogue from the marines convinced of their victory even before there are boots on the ground:

“I’m ready, man, check it out. I am the ultimate badass! State of the badass art! You do NOT wanna fuck with me. Check it out! Hey Ripley, don’t worry. Me and my squad of ultimate badasses will protect you! Check it out! Independently targeting particle beam phalanx. Vwap! Fry half a city with this puppy. We got tactical smart missiles, phase-plasma pulse rifles, RPGs, we got sonic electronic ball breakers! We got nukes, we got knives, sharp sticks…”

Aliens has it all. Now thirty-four years old it sets the standard for science fiction war movies. Sheer brilliance.

So there you have it. My top three. What are yours? Do you agree with my choices?

Current relationship status

When you see someone and get a tight feeling in your chest, that’s not a heart attack, it’s love. When I see Fran I get that feeling. Not all the time, but often enough to know what I love her, through and through.

We’ve been together for almost three years. That doesn’t seem too long when I write it down but we have been through a lot in that time. Bought a house, had a baby, decided to start a life together. It’s not been easy but then nothing worth having is easy. And loving someone is loving their flaws and imperfections as well as the good.

She tolerates me when many others wouldn’t. She puts up with my moods and my sulking. She puts up with me being a grumpy old man. I put up with her insecurities and occasional bad moods. I couldn’t imagine my life without her and sometimes I have to pinch myself to be sure I’m not dreaming and that she chose me.

My current relationship can only be described as ‘happy’ and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What’s so bad about Mondays?

The notion of ‘Monday’ marking the return to the working week following a weekend of fun and laughs matters little to me. My working week can start on Monday or Thursday or Friday. That ‘Friday Feeling’ marking on onset of the weekend occasionally hits at 5am on a Tuesday morning after five long, tough shifts. I’m not the type to complain. It’s the career I chose. If I wanted to hate Mondays and love Fridays I’d have chosen something different; something normal.

Today, this particular Monday, is the first of six long shifts. Three day shifts and three night shifts to finish. It’s a tough week when you have a young family to deal with also. Today I have dealt with a hit and run collision, a burglary, and two sexual offences. Each incident is different, each approach different, each Monday different. If its a Monday or any other day for that matter it doesn’t matter! I love going to work and I love doing the job I do. I get to protect those most vulnerable and put away those who caused the most harm. Today, this Monday, was a good day.

The stigma attached to Mondays can become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think your Monday is going to suck it probably will. If you choose to take Monday by the horns and make it a good day it will be. Don’t fall for the trap of thinking there is some mystical meaning behind the first day of the week and that it will be awful. That way madness lies. To quote an ex-colleague of mine who moved on to pastures new recently:

If you hate Mondays to me a favour and next Monday… be a shark.

August blog-a-day challenge midway review

When I started this challenge I was concerned that I might not finish it. It is very easy to sit and write 31 lines but each line, when you get down to writing, equals a lot of work. Between working, being a parent, running two new websites and maintaining relationships with friends and family there isn’t an awful amount of time to sit down and write stuff.

Some of the posts I’ve put up have been easy to do. I deliberately added easy ‘favourite’ style posts (photo, songs, quotes, books) to break up the task of writing a few hundred words a day.

Coming in the second half I’m going to attempt to get a few guest posts up. This not only takes a bit of pressure off me but it gives others a chance to promote their writing on my blog. I like to help people and if they get views from their writings here that’s great. Look out for them.

I am digressing, however, so lets keep focused on what was been posted before rather than looking to the future. Writing about personal concerns has always been therapeutic. Its interesting that the things with bothered me in the past still bother me now. I haven’t effectively dealt with the issues around my brother, for example, but I didn’t just want to revisit old themes. Writing about the #BlackLivesMatter movement was interesting. Its sometimes difficult to know what you think about something until you come to try and explain it. Having to research something you want to write about is a great way of improving your understanding of a subject:

The core focus of Black Lives Matter can be summed up like this. Shouting that All Lives Matter when someone says Black Lives Matter is like saying ‘save all forests’ when someone says, ‘save the rainforests.’

Yes, all forests matter, but it’s the rainforest which is being decimated and destroyed. When you consider that a man born black in the United States has a one in a thousand chance of having their life ended by a police officer you can understand why people may come out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Sometimes you think you know about something but writing about it expands your knowledge and understanding.