Family Matters

The thoughts of a husband, father, brother and son

Archive for the category “Beautiful Armenian”

Good Times For A Change…

Some bits of really good news this week.

First, my nephew, H. This is a young man with a very tough home life. His mum has advanced MS. His little brother has quite pronounced physical challenges, and although he’s an exceptionally cute little lad, is very demanding of his parents’ time. H gets lots and lots of love from his family, but they don’t have much money and live in a council house in an inner city.

H is just coming up to the end of primary school, and the thought of him trying to survive in one of the inner city comprehensive schools for which he was bound was not a happy one. But this week we heard that he has won a full, seven year scholarship to the very prestigious private school which was the port in a storm for my eldest son when he was driven out of our local school by homophobic bullying. H did this all by himself – no coaching, no tutoring – and if there is a prouder, happier uncle anywhere in the world right now, I would very much like to meet him. If ever a family deserved a bit of good fortune, H’s family is that family.

It’s disappointing that the state system couldn’t offer H or my son any more support, but that seems to be the way of the world.

Next, my dad. He’s been discharged from the care of his psychiatrist. Whilst he’s still something of a shadow of the man he was before depression put him in hospital two years ago, he’s much recovered, and we do seem to have avoided a double-dip depression (I wish I could claim credit for that phrase but have to tip my hat to my mum).

Finally, my wife, the Beautiful Armenian. After weeks and weeks of frustration and set-back she has finally been given the go-ahead to start writing up the transcript of a counselling session that is one of the requirements of the final year of her course. That’s a bit of a two-sided coin. The frustration of waiting is over. Now comes the joy of living with her in writing mode.

Back on the subject of depression, but to end on a lighter note, I was watching England play rugby on Saturday and moaning mildly about the dark nature of Brian Moore’s (ex-England player) TV commentary. But, I explained to the Beautiful A as she passed through the room, he was abused in childhood, has suffered from depression and has had the courage to write a book about it all.

Her response was priceless. She did check herself towards the end of her question, but she definitely said it and I definitely heard it:

“Oh,” she said, looking at the television. “Is he the one who committed suicide?”

She isn’t blonde, but I do wonder occasionally if I ought to get her a wig.

School Trip

The Small Boy Wonder (SBW) went on a school trip this week.  A rapid visit to the First World War battlefields in Belgium.  He’d been looking forward to it, and it was clear just what effect studying the horrors and tragedy of that most awful and misguided of conflicts has had on him.  Because for him it all boiled down to one simple question.  Just one thing he needed to know before he left on this potentially very moving journey.

Do they have nightclubs in Ypres?

Good luck with this lot, we thought as we handed him over to his teachers, along with two coach loads of his peers at half past four on a bitterly cold morning.  Yes, you did read that right: half past four in the freakin’  morning!  We were at least pleased to see that it wasn’t just our darling heading off to the big freeze of continental Europe with feet protected by nothing more than a pair of light, canvas shoes and an aversion to wearing anything remotely uncool (like a couple of extra layers).

More on this later.  In the meantime, the Beautiful Armenian and I headed off to Norfolk for a couple of days of rest and relaxation.

Now I am firmly in the camp of those who believe that we live on what has been described as the most beautiful island in the world.  The kids always look at me as if this is final proof, if any such proof were needed, that I am completely demented when I say this.  I suppose most people hear the phrase “beautiful island” and imagine some tropical paradise with coral beaches and clear blue sea.  But what makes the British Isles stand out so much is its sheer variety.  Yes, the weather may be lousy at times, the infrastructure creaking, and many urban areas drab and over-crowded.  But the countryside is diverse and often spectacular. Particularly if you know where to go.

North Norfolk is one of those places.  It’s an area of very typical English villages, where rolling countryside meets a coastline of vast marshlands, sandy beaches and big, big skies.  It’s become very fashionable in the last 20 years, a little too dominated perhaps by banker bonus money.  But you soon leave the bankers behind if you head for the wilder beaches and the more remote countryside.

“Why do you two always go away when I do?”  the SBW asked the day before we all left.  “Oh I know why.”

I pointed out that with the house to ourselves we didn’t need to go away for “sexy time” (his words).  He didn’t look convinced.

Maybe he’s got a point.  But something else we like to do in Norfolk is to catch the little coast bus a few miles east or west and then walk back.  A couple of years ago we walked from Wells-next-the-Sea to Brancaster Staithe – this has got to be one of the best walks anywhere in the world.  Amongst many other things, you cross this ridiculously over-crowded beach.

Banker-free beach

This time we went the other way, catching the bus to Stiffkey and walking back to Wells.

The village of Stiffkey

Looking towards Blakeney

Norfolk marshes

Back at Wells, I was able to indulge in the supreme afternoon luxury of sitting in a bar, drinking a couple of pints of local beer, and reading some blogs.  In a busy life, a little moment to be treasured.

Later that evening I had one of those “how am I ever supposed to get things right” incidents which I assume afflict all married men from time to time.  The BA would not deny that the intensity and pressures of her course has pushed her weight upwards a little over the last three years.  But more recently, she’s lost a few pounds.  That evening she put on a dress which made her look as good as she has done in a while.  She looked fabulous and I told her.

“So you’re saying I’ve been looking rubbish up to now?”

No, that’s not what I meant.

“Are you just trying to get inside my knickers then?”

Obviously, but only because I always am.  Again, you’ve misunderstood.

What’s a man supposed to say?

Norfolk is also one of the best places in Europe to watch birds and we came home via the reserve at Titchwell.  Boy, there are some serious bird-watchers around.  We felt quite out-of-place without 3 telescopes each, camouflage clothing and an obsession with the length of our bird list.  But we did get a good long look at a marsh harrier quartering the reed-beds – they’re fairly common in those parts, but we thought it was exciting.

Frozen Titchwell

Snow on the beach

So back to the Small Boy Wonder and his foreign excursion.  When we picked him up (different time of day, same freezing weather) he seemed in good spirits.  Most of his chatter was about mucking about and banter with “the lads.”  But I think the battlefield experience had had some impact.  He thought the reconstructed trenches were cool (high praise indeed) and the fact that they still stop the traffic and sound the last post every day in one of the cemeteries quite impressive.

They’d also each been given a cross to place on a grave, and he had found around 30 graves with the same initial and surname as his.  I don’t know exactly what he thought of that, but it made me well up when he told me.

I do find things related to the world wars very moving.  I cry at Remembrance Day parades, and also at the lyrics of this song.  There are many different versions, and this is just one.  The leaders of Israel and Iran, or (sadly) even the UK and Argentina, could do worse than listen to it and reflect as they consider what they do next over the coming weeks.

RSPB Bird Watch

This may be one the (many) things about us Brits which bemuses our friends from overseas.  This weekend, more than 600,00 of us will spend an hour watching the birds in our garden and logging the details to a website.   Our European neighbours like to catch and eat small birds.  We like to feed and watch them (the birds, obviously, not the European neighbours).

In the town where I live there is a market on a Saturday.  There is a stall which sells all manner of seed and feed for wild birds.  There’s always a queue, and on cold days they sell out (i.e. they sell everything they’ve got, not they start to make bland, commercial albums, betraying their original fan base).

I make no apology about it.  I am seriously into this peculiar British obsession.  This was my Christmas present from my parents.

We do occasionally visit nature reserves to do some more serious bird watching, but it’s the garden birds I really love. Also, the Beautiful Armenian seems to have a fantasy about having sex in a bird hide and can get a bit giggly and skittish when we’re out.

Anyway, we seem to do very well for garden birds. Our garden only just scrapes into the RSPB large category (size of one tennis court), but we are very near lots of countryside and we have an old field hedge as one of our boundaries which birds love.

These are some of my favourite visitors to our garden.

Bullfinch

Bullfinch (photo courtesy of Hilary Chambers from Flickr - Hilary has no link with this blog).

The Small Boy Wonder has about as much interest in birds as I do in Blackberry Messenger, but even he said that this was a “pretty cool bird” when I pointed one out to him. I think they are beautiful – that combination of slate grey back and rich pink breast.

They have a special place in my heart, because when I was a child our next door neighbour used to shoot them in large numbers, I think to protect his fruit trees. He was an odious man, and it makes me very happy to see them apparently making something of a comeback, at least round here.

Starling

Starling (photo courtesy of John Glass (madmcmojo on Flickr) - John has no link with this blog).

You’ve got to be joking, I hear fellow bird-lovers say. Those hooligans of the bird table, who descend in an unruly gang and go through the food like a swarm of hungry teenagers?

I love them. Yes, they do make a big mess, but that brings other birds to the garden who clear up after them. Again, there’s a childhood connection. There was a wood near where I grew up where starlings used to congregate in their thousands and thousands to roost. All through the late afternoon you could watch flock upon flock heading for the woods.

Starlings have declined by about 70% in the last thirty years or so, and so they are welcome in my back yard any time they like. Also, Chris Packham says they are very cool, and I wouldn’t argue with a word he says about wildlife.  I’ve never seen the spectacular flying displays of the vast flocks, but it’s one thing I would love to see before I die.

Blackcap

Blackcap (photo courtesy of Hilary Chambers from Flickr - Hilary has no link with this blog).

I was so excited a couple of years ago when I realised we had these in the garden. However, it’s probably a sign of global warming, and ours seem not to have read the Handbook of British Birds, which clearly says that they feed from bird tables. Come on chaps, stop skulking around in the hedge.

Goldfinch

Goldfinch (photo courtesy of cazstar from Flickr - cazstar has no link with this blog).

Another bird on the up. These are the bling-merchants of the bird world. Gaudy and over dressed, but with a beautiful song.

House Sparrow

House sparrow (photo courtesy of HermiG from Flickr - HermiG has no link with this blog).

Like the starling, this may raise some eyebrows. But like the starling this once very common bird is in decline. If starlings are teenagers, these guys are toddlers – noisy, lively and in to everything.

Redwing

Redwing (photo courtesy of Richard Toller from Flickr - Richard has no link with this blog).

Again, having these around makes me very happy. We don’t see them often, but they love the berries in our hedge and seem to be able to eat their body weight several times over.

Long-tailed Tit

Long Tailed Tit (photo courtesy of snapp3r from Flickr - snapp3r has no link with this blog).

Another bird that visits us in little gangs.  They’re like little mice with wings, scurrying up and down the nut feeder, but never staying very long

Now, look away if you are a small bird reading this blog. Because my last favourite, you won’t like.

Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawk (photo courtesy of Keith Laverack from Flickr - Keith has no link with this blog).

This guy is smart. We feed the little birds, making them plump and complacent. The sparrowhawk eats the little birds.

But how lonely must it be to be a sparrowhawk? Every other bird in your world detests you. Everywhere you go, you make others flee.

I also think it’s one of those profoundly wonderful things about nature that small birds are hard-coded to recognise the shape of a sparrowhawk.

As I say, I think we do very well. On a really cold day, it’s like freakin’ Springwatch out there.  You half expect Packham to turn up with Kate Humble (about whom the Beautiful Armenian has something of a girl crush who my wife says is the sort of girl she would find attractive if she were a man).

Packham and Humble

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