Being Daddy Warbucks

That character in Annie. I’ve always loved the name. One day in the future, I’d like to be a dad. One of my biggest fears is that I won’t be a good parent. One of my other biggest fears is that I’ll be a great dad, but regardless of how good I am, the child will be awfully behaved all of the time. Or even worse if I’m a terrible parent with a perfectly well-behaved child. I’m probably massively overthinking it (pretty standard for me) since I imagine the whole thing is a bit of a compromise between being the best that YOU can be and handling the worst that THEY can be.

I started thinking about this the other day when I was travelling on a bus. I’ve seen a lot of families riding on a lot of different kinds of public transportation, but this was a little different. It was the first time that I felt genuinely uncomfortable and had the compulsion to get involved in someone else’s affairs. A young mother boarded (probably early twenties, but that doesn’t matter) with her little boy who was probably no older than three or four. The kid was chatting about something that I couldn’t quite make out, but that the mother clearly had no interest in hearing. The more the kid spoke, the more agitated his mother appeared. After a few minutes, the mother exploded and started ranting at the kid about being quiet.

I want to be clear about this part. She wasn’t just telling the kid off for talking. She was having a full-on rant. The kind of abusive tirade that people save for other grown people in the heat of an argument or an all-out fight when the other person can defend themselves. This went on for a few minutes. The kid was quiet throughout but she just kept going. Telling him how annoying he was. How she just wished that he would shut up. How she hated being out and about with him. When she was finished, he spoke again. She shouted him down. This happened a couple of times before the kid learned that there was no point in speaking further. He turned his head and stared out of the window for the remainder of the journey.

Now I’ve seen adults go misty eyed with lesser abuse. Not that kid. He just took everything that she had to give. Quietly. To me, this is a sign that this has happened before. The kid was just numbed to it and this made me feel cold and horrible inside.

No one on the bus said anything. What would they say? What would I have said? I had no idea what that mother was going through. I had no idea what might have happened minutes before boarding the bus or that morning over a bowl of corn flakes or twenty years ago when she was a kid. But the thought that remained with me throughout was how the kid took it. So well. So experienced.

Regardless of circumstance, I never want to be that parent. Screaming at a child on a bus is not how I want anyone to remember me. I can’t even imagine putting a child through that at all, let alone doing it often enough that the child develops such a thick skin.

My belief (completely lacking in any experience, of course) is that being a good parent has a lot to do with being a good person. Be good to the kid and hope that they’ll reward you with good behaviour, affection and awards from the school science fair. Maybe being a dad will be easier than I fear, or harder than I think. Won’t know until I’m there, I guess. One thing I do know is that I want to be the best parent I can be and that definitely means no shouting on a bus.

Carrousel

Yes, the spelling is intentional.

In the film Logan’s Run, every person in society gets to live to the ripe old age of 30. On their final day of life (cleverly referred to as ‘Lastday’) they enter the ritual of Carrousel and, with the promise of being reborn, are vaporized. Pretty grim, right?

Now, I know that my life should play out a little differently than that as there is no Carrousel ritual in the UK (although if Iain Duncan Smith could find a way to make it happen and monetize it, I bet he would), but I’m 29 and a half years old (at this point, the half matters). For me, the Big Three-Oh is approaching and it has already arrived for a number of my friends and loved ones. And although I don’t have a flashing red lifeclock in my palm (not yet anyway), it feels like this birthday will be a little bit different.

I have this theory that there are several milestone birthdays. These are (in no particular order except chronological) 18, 21, 25, 30, 40 and every ten years after that (people argue that 25 shouldn’t be included but it’s a quarter century, so it stays in). Now here we are and 25 was four and a half years ago, passing with little fanfare or excitement. Saying that, I did go to Amsterdam for my 25th birthday… on my own. It was a fantastic city to visit, but when you’re there on your own everyone looks at you like you’re some kind of filthy sex tourist. So don’t do that (unless you ARE a sex tourist, in which case go for it). I digress.

It’s the the final months of my twenties and I have the fear that the allocation of a new numerical value will change me somehow. I don’t think that I’ve seen any real change in people that I know who’ve already hit 30, but I’m concerned that it’s a more personal change. Something about the way you think or the way that you’re perceived once you’re out of your twenties.

Maybe the worry is present because I’m leaving my twenties and I haven’t really done many of the things that other people have done by this point on their personal calendar. I didn’t do a lot of drunken, hedonistic partying. I didn’t finish university (with more of the associated partying). I didn’t take a grand world tour or see parts of the world that took me far from my comfort zone.

But is that really missing out?

I made a web series and a comedy feature film with some of my best friends. I’ve written stories and scripts and acted in front of my peers. I met the woman of my dreams and she agreed to marry me (despite how many opportunities I’ve given her to change her mind). These are not small achievements.

Are any of the things that I’ve missed better than any of the things that I’ve done? They’re different, but they’re not better. In fact, had I done the things I mentioned, I may not be where I am now. I definitely wouldn’t be who I am.

Perhaps I don’t have to approach this milestone birthday with apprehension or fear. Maybe I’m going into my thirties with a set of experiences that differ wildly from some of my peers. Maybe that will make me a better person than I otherwise would have been. Maybe the change in personality or perception will be a good thing. I don’t think I ever thought of it that way. It could be that the change is brought on not by age, but by experiences. I think that’s the way I need to look at it from now on.

Someone far more clever than I am probably said it first, but I think I have a new mantra starting with this birthday: I’m not getting older. I’m levelling up.

Where I Belong

I’m the kind of person that gets asked a lot of questions in life. I’m rarely the smartest guy in the room and it isn’t because I know much of anything in particular. Mostly it is because my day job exists within the realm of retail technical support. However, the most common question I get is one that requires no technical background to answer. It’s also a question that has many variations. The core question is this: “Where are you from?”

That question on it’s own is no big deal (although the answer I choose seriously depends on the audience I’m addressing). I was born in London, raised across the United States for 13 years  before returning to Manchester (the UK one) 15 years ago. I usually tell people that I’m from Texas because I was there for most of those 13 years (and it’s easier than telling the whole story, I’ll tell that another time). That question isn’t really the problem. I have a funny accent due to travelling around so much, so people can’t always guess where I’ve been. The follow-up question is the one that takes me a moment to answer. The question I’m referring to, in its basic form, is this: “Why are you in the UK when you could be living in the US?”

There are two common incarnations of this question. One of them is simple and innocuous: “What brings you to the UK?” Usually asked by curious and well-meaning individuals, I have a very simple answer for this one: “Family.” That usually ends the questioning and everyone moves on smiling, happy in the knowledge that I’m some kind of world-travelling family man.

The other common version is the one that I have an issue with. The question is this: “Why are you here?” Now I know that there isn’t any existential meaning behind the question because it is invariably followed up with statements like “I’d rather be there” or “you’re crazy being here” or “how do you cope with this weather”.

I know that I’m being picky and overly sensitive about this, I know that I am, but I’ve never liked these questions much. The first one I’m okay with. It’s usually pleasant and meant as a gentle probe when a stranger finds a gap in the conversation. But the second one… I just feel like it’s intrusive. “Why are you here” sounds like the kind of question you’d get asked at the security desk at the airport, not the way that you’d get to know a stranger who legally resides in this country. “I’d rather be in the States” is all well and good but (by your own admission) you don’t know what I was escaping by coming here. “How do you cope with the weather” is fine until you realise that northwest Texas juggles pretty much every kind of weather system possible throughout the whole year.

There’s probably a case of ‘the grass is always greener’ going on for some people. They see what TV and movies show them about America and think that it is a glorious land of opportunity. For some people it definitely is and I would never say otherwise. Others think that anything other than what they are used to is an improvement. I’m sure that’s true for some people too, but I am much happier here.

I suppose the simple solution for this problem of mine (that isn’t even a problem, really) is to lighten up a little bit. I’m sure nobody is asking these questions because they’re in the mood for a little light interrogation. They hear an unfamiliar accent and wonder why. Nobody is being mean-spirited or negative about it… except me, I guess. The simple answer to the question is that I’m here because I want to be here. My family and friends are here. A lot of my history is here now too (15 years is a long time). That’s what I need to focus on. Not how they ask, but what they want to know and just how easy it is for me to give them that information politely.

It’s all about a little change in attitude. Starting today, when people ask me why I’m in the UK, I’ll give them the only answer that they need and the one that really makes sense to me.

Life brought me here. Now I’m here to stay.

Amongst Mere Mortals

Today is the day that I come clean to you all. I just can’t pretend that I’m normal anymore.

I have a superpower.

I may not be able to fly and I don’t have laser-vision, but I have an absolutely uncanny ability that is rivalled by no one. My great power is the ability to procrastinate. I can put ANYTHING off. I mean it. I’m so good at procrastination that if I were pregnant (just go with it for a minute) I’d probably wind up carrying that baby for eight trimesters before getting around to the birth.

I’m sharing the secret of my incredible procrastination abilities with you all because right now I should be writing my book and today I’ve managed maybe 200 words. This is an absolutely terrible output for a day away from the usual retail grind (ooh, I really must make some more coffee). I’ve vacuumed the flat, hung out washing, paced around a little, had lunch, checked Facebook and Twitter a half-dozen times each, researched film festivals with a short script category and it’s barely even 2 o’clock. Not to mention the number of times that I’ve tweaked this blog to make it look nicer (at least I think that’s what I’ve done). This sounds like I’ve been productive, and maybe I have (a little), but these are not the tasks that I should have been achieving. I should have been writing. I should have a couple thousand new and exciting words by now. The deadline that I’ve set myself for a first draft of my book is February 4th, 2015. I want to have a book that I can revise and tweak by the time I hit the Big Three-Zero. Days like today are not really helping to achieve that. Must try harder if I’m going to be a big-time-writer-man.

The upside of this day of wasted time is that I’m setting out to complete other, smaller tasks. Those festivals I mentioned are for a short script that I wrote a little while ago (and am quietly proud of too) that I’d like to see the light of day at some point. I’m refreshing Facebook and Twitter for updates on the Filmonik filmmaking event that is going on in Manchester becauseI wanted to check on my friends that are taking part and see what they’re up to. That lunch I ate was damn tasty leftover soup that I could not bear to waste (okay, this is maybe less relevant). I think that my point is that although I’m putting something off, I am achieving other things.

Maybe I am being productive really, just not on the task I set out to accomplish. Is that good enough? Is the time really wasted? Can I still be Procrastination Man or have I jeopardised my superhero status by justifying my time?

Wait, do I even want to be Procrastination Man? I suppose that it isn’t really the superhero I dreamed of being, but I’ll take it until I’m able to fly or shoot laser beams.

The Bursting Bubble

For one night in July 2014, I was a bona fide filmmaker. Almost 200 people filed into The Plaza Theatre in Stockport and watched a feature length movie that I co-wrote and produced. People laughed at the jokes (I was worried I’d be the only one) and applauded when the credits rolled. The experience was surreal and incredible… and just a little upsetting. Why did it upset me? Because I knew that the next day would see me returning to my day job, with most people oblivious to what had happened that night. The night that I had felt like a bit of a celebrity.

People do a lot of different things with their lives. Some have careers that they work day in and day out to further and better themselves. Others work day jobs and hold onto the hope that their true passion can turn into their dream job. I am one of the latter. On my days off from my retail job (I’m sure you’ll understand if I don’t go into the details of where) I tap away at my computer, adding words to my first novel (12,200 words and counting). The dream is that I can finish the novel, publish it, make a bunch of money and then continue writing without the requirements of a day job. Effectively, I want the life that Nathan Fillion’s character has in the TV show ‘Castle’ (only without a police officer love interest as Lou would not approve). This dream is rather heavily affected by several factors:
A) finishing the book (12,200 words is not very much)
B) the book being any good (it’s important to be honest with yourself, right?)
C) whether I can get the book published (see points A and B)
D) the book selling millions of copies and getting a film deal (see point C)

Some would refer to this as a long shot. And that’s why it is still a dream. Until I can make it a reality (see point A).

That’s why that night affected me so. I felt like a big shot and it felt good. And that’s exactly why the next day’s comedown seemed so much more extreme. But although the filmmaker bubble burst not long after it was inflated, it gave me a hunger for success that I am desperate to satiate.

Now I just need to focus and write the damn book (and make it good, and get it published, and sell millions of copies…).

Americans, The 2nd Amendment and Me

I remember the first time I fired a gun. I was standing in a booth at a store called Panhandle Gunslingers in Amarillo, Texas. In my right hand was the cold steel of a .32 semi-automatic pistol.

This wasn’t just any handgun. It has the coolest story of any gun that I’ve ever known. The gun is owned by my grandfather and before that it was owned by his step-father. His step-father ran a bar and a guy once ran up a bar tab that he couldn’t pay off. The solution that they came to was that the bar patron would handover his .32 in exchange for clearing the tab. After that, the weapon was handed down to my grandfather. But I suppose if you didn’t know that story, that it would be just any ordinary handgun.

Using a weapon in a controlled environment like that is incredibly common in the US. There were several gun ranges in Amarillo when I lived there and I expect most cities (especially in a state like Texas) are just the same. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy the experience. Laughing and joking about hitting targets with my dad and grandfather, it felt like any ordinary pastime, like throwing a ball or fishing at a lake. Of course there was one significant difference; the deadly weapon in my hand.

Standing there in my booth, ear defenders in place, I had a realisation that absolutely terrified me. With a slight turn of my shoulders and a very gentle squeeze of the trigger, I could have killed someone instantly. I had, in that moment, absolute control over life and death. Now that sounds exaggerated and overblown (I have been known to use hyperbole from time to time) but I really mean it. At that exact moment, I had that power. I was legally using a weapon that was designed with the sole purpose of taking lives.

People regularly rationalise the usage of firearms. The National Rifle Association loves reminding people that guns don’t kill people, but people do. But there is a very simple point that I think everyone needs to consider; guns were designed as a way to kill things and that is how people choose to use them. If you take away guns, can people still kill each other? Of course they can. Is it significantly harder to kill a lot of people quickly? It certainly is.

In the moment that I held a gun for the first time, terrible possibilities flashed through my mind and I dismissed them. That’s because I’m a relatively normal, well adjusted individual. Just imagine putting that same power and those same possibilities through the mind of a person with an emotional history, aggressive tendencies or psychological issues…

Most people in the US may be legally entitled to own a gun. Should they own one? People would argue that it doesn’t matter because gun ownership is a constitutional right that left-wing liberals cannot take away. If you take away everyone’s guns, then only criminals will have them. Maybe, but it also means that kids cannot raid their home arsenal and shoot up their school because they’ve been bullied. Or a guy with undiagnosed psychological issues who has been rejected by girls cannot walk into a store and walk out with handguns on the same day, before going on a killing spree. Would there still be gun crime? Of course. There is gun crime in the UK and gun ownership is illegal for everyday citizens. Would you have the same mass murders that continually plague the news…?

The saddest thing is that we’ll probably never know.

A Big Question

Last year, some friends and I made a movie. Just a modest little 90-minute long feature comedy. The film is called Shooting on the Rim and we’re premiering it next month (friends on Facebook and Twitter are probably bored of me mentioning it). I want to talk about it because I need to address a question that I recently asked myself: is the film really as good as I think it is?

It’s a big question, but I think it’s a question that needs to be asked. It’s a question that the rest of the team who put in so much time to this film deserve to know the answer to before we reveal it to the world.

A couple of nights ago, I watched the film again in its entirety. I’ve done this a few times but is the last time I’ll watch it before our World Premiere. With me were Tom and Paul (co-writers), Louise (my girlfriend) and Gabi (Paul’s girlfriend and part of the film’s production crew). We sat down with open minds, open notepads and for the next 90 minutes we allowed the story to play out in front of us.

I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow of the pros and cons of our movie because I don’t want to ruin the surprises for those who will see it in the future. Also, I’d like everyone to believe there are no cons to the film.

What I can tell you is that the people in the movie are incredible. The crew that made the movie are exceptional. I love the movie and I fully believe that it lives up to the hype that I have assigned to it.

Is it going to be a huge success? I certainly hope so. Do I think it deserves to be? Absolutely. Now I know you think that is easy for me to say, but it really isn’t. I have to be sure that the film that I (along with many others) poured my heart and soul into gives people the same laughs that I get each time I watch it over. I think it will. I’m looking forward to seeing the reactions of those that don’t know the film like I do.

I hope everyone that can will come to see the film on July 17th. I want a big crowd of cheering fans on their feet as the credits roll.

I want to make it abundantly clear that this is NOT a vanity thing. I don’t want to stand there and choke on my own smug satisfaction. I want the people that made this film (myself, but mostly everyone else) to feel validated. To know that their effort was something special.

I think that those cheering fans will be aiming their adulation right at them, not at me, and that is what is most important.

Check out the links below for more details about the film and the World Premiere.

Shooting on the Rim on Facebook

Shooting on the Rim Trailer

Tickets for the World Premiere