I need to find myself a time-machine.

time machine

It was my son’s 10th birthday, him reaching double digits, him really coming of age, him just being him and us loving him more and more for it. Don’t you just love those times that you know are memories being made that you’ll cherish and hold forever. We had a great party. Go-karting with some of his mates followed by a massive water-pistol fight by the pool followed by two hours non-stop mayhem in the water. It was a great afternoon and a great evening with the other mums and dads who’ve grown close over the years. It was as near perfect as perfect could get. If the day were a pole dancer, after her first shift wiggling and wobbling, her thong would be full of crisp fifties. If it were a golfer it would be his second hole and the second hole-in-one of the day. Then the ducks died.

I’ve lost pets in my childhood and I can say that I don’t really handle death very well. The fact it was so sudden, the fact it was both of them and the fact that it was during a party all just made it the more unbearably sad for me and totally heartbreaking for the children. Tears flowed, questions with no possible answers were raised and in the first real moment of utter sadness my son experiences, all I can do is hug him and try to stop him seeing I too am crying, crying not only because our little ducks touched us in a special way, but because his sadness is just too much for me. I tried to think how my parents coped with my tears when we lost the dog or the guinea pig climbed those steps up to the pearly gates. But I just couldn’t remember. Just 10 years into parenthood and I am feeling out of my depth and unable to support him like a father should. I know we are only talking about a couple of ducks, but they weren’t just ducks, they were our couple of ducks, they were family. This then makes me worried for when the rabbit meets her maker or dare I think, when we end up with the dog they all so constantly hassle me for… How will I ever deal with that popping its clogs? He slept with us that night. I slept little, still trying to come up with answers that may help what was going to be a difficult Sunday. I failed in that as well and all day it was tears, hugs, more tears and more hugs. I felt crap, helpless and so completely useless.

Later that day we began digging the grave at the bottom of the garden and to help distract from the gloom of our task, we began discussing what tree or shrub we should buy to mark and remember them. As it happens, the spot where we were digging was near the road and passing cars can be seen and heard a ways off, so having decided we would look for a yellow flowering bush, we began seeing if we could guess what car was coming by just listening to the exhaust notes. I reckoned I could spot any BMW 3 series manufactured between 2002 and 2010, he boasted of a pitch perfect ear for Volvo 4×4’s and any Ferrari. The next car he correctly guessed was a Volvo, my guess proved wrong, the Ford Focus most obviously had a blown exhaust as on any other day, I would not have made such a mistake. The hole was a good size when a throaty roar filled the still afternoon, it grew louder and went higher up the scale as the driver began accelerating. “That’s a Ferrari” he shouted as he ran to the fence. And sure enough, around the bend came a lovely Ferrari, trademark red, it passed us, crested the hill and turned into our road. “It’s coming here!” he screamed with excitement. And indeed it was. Earlier, a friend who owns a Ferrari had suggested that taking our son out for a spin in the car would be a super thrill and a treat to really finish off the celebrations. We also knew it would help lift his spirit. Boy did it work. The tears dried up, the smile came back and his face lit up in anticipation of a chance to go for a ride in such a stunning looking and sounding car. Roof down, engine singing, off he went with me capturing the moment on film.

I decided to wander up the road, I wanted to get some footage of the car coming back. So, with a cup of coffee I settled myself down on the verge and waited. And waited. I’ll add at this point that the car had only just come into the country, it wasn’t registered, was uninsured and had no tax, so it could only be driven around the estate. It’s certainly not a small estate but after twenty minutes, I was getting a little concerned. Twenty five minutes later a car pulls up, the window rolls down and out pops my sons head with a big grin on his face. “We crashed!” he shouts out the window. In disbelief I hear how the rear wheel spun up on a corner causing it to oversteer, which was overcorrected causing the whole car to spin into the golf club fence, knocking that all over and coming to a halt in the ditch. I went to their house later to look at the damage. Every panel was scratched, dented and needing some kind of repair, the wing mirrors were damaged, light clusters broken, runners buckled and I’d have guessed you’d be looking at a complete respray. An expensive car to buy, but a real expensive car to fix. I felt the pain. My son though, with a grasp of economics based on the market price of fizzy sweets, saw not a financial nightmare but a wild adventure park ride where they didn’t check your height and you got the front seat. The accident had made the ride quite simply the best thing ever and if he could do it again, he would.

It didn’t end there. Stupidity and his mates clouded my mind that day for sure as I had the most daft idea that it would be a good idea to nip over to the security office at the estate entrance and ask them if we could have a copy of the CCTV footage. Both my son and I thought that having the crash on film would give everyone hours of laughter, not right now maybe, but certainly in a few years. After all, how often can you say you’ve been in a prang in a Ferrari and have a copy on film to show everyone. See where my mind was going on this..? Well security said they couldn’t give us the footage, they said the cameras weren’t on. Yet as we drove off we could see the security guards hunching over the computers searching and scanning the footage to see for themselves a Ferrari being binned.

A short time later we get a call from the Ferrari owner. He was concerned and worried, he’d just driven past the scene of the crash and security were there snapping pictures of the damage. He wanted to know if he should just pretend it hadn’t happened or face up to things, go speak to security and admit fault. Obviously I said ignore it. Which, it turns out, was not only morally wrong but stupidly wrong as entry into the estate is through numberplate recognition cameras, meaning all residents have their cars registered at security. Finding the offending Ferrari would be a piece of ‘birthday’ cake if you’ll excuse the pun. If I had not gone to the security office, they may not have noticed the damaged fence until Monday or maybe later and by then they may have overwritten the CCTV tapes. But like I said, stupidity and his mates seem to visit my head far to often. There is no escape, the cameras I hope make for a more secure life, have him bang to rights, on top of having to fork out the full cost of the repair and respray of the car due to no insurance, he’s certainly going to be landed with a bill to fix all the fence he ripped apart. I can’t let a mate carry the full burden of the fence. Being fairly close to, but not completely devoid of morals, I will have to help in some way.

So happy 10th birthday my most amazing little boy. It’s one we’ll all certainly remember with a mixed bag of feelings and many conflicting emotions. Watching you put the little cardboard coffin in the hole with such care, listening to you say a tearful, final, ‘good-bye’ was both lovely and so incredibly painful. If I could ever have just one wish in life, It wouldn’t be to win the lottery or have a fancy yacht, it would be to go back in time so the ducks wouldn’t have died. But you know, I wouldn’t stop the car accident. Nope, armed with some wire cutters, I’d ‘take out’ the CCTV cameras at the scene, hide myself in the bushes and capture that one particular moment on video.

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IT’S NOT A GIFT, IT’S A CURSE…

ImagePeople assume being able to draw is a gift. They see creativity as something bestowed upon the chosen ones. I guess I see their point but I usually disagree. I can’t think that being able to draw is anything other than the combination of desire, practice and opening your eyes to what you are seeing. As for creativity. Well for that you’d have to get into the topic of what exactly creativity is because when you look long and hard at it, we’re all creative. Explaining to my dad that I didn’t just crash his car, that I had in fact been escaping an alien UFO that was, I am sure, going to abduct me, is being creative. Baking a cake in the shape of woman’s breasts and decorating it accordingly, is also being creative. Making the company accounts look okay when actually all the time you’ve been fiddling the books is I suppose in some way being creative…  So it’s not a gift, it’s something you work at or something you don’t. I work at it and for my efforts it can sometimes become a bit of a curse.

Let me explain. Friends, apparently not wanting to take advantage of this so called gift, often ask me to ‘knock up’ a quick logo for them or take a look at their website. But the worst offenders of my good nature are by far my children. They take full advantage of Daddies abilities by wanting me to create the invitations and cakes for their birthday parties. When they were unable to walk properly the invitation was a phone call to friends, as they started to mutter words the invitation was a quick chat in the school playground with the parents, but as the years pass and their ability to think, talk and demand increase, they sit me down and brief me on what their expectations are, what the theme is to be for this year and what deadline I shall be working to. The terms are made clear at the outset. In return for my services, they will settle things up with a kiss and a cuddle, the shallow promise that they will share their Sherbert Dip with me and that I may come along to the party myself!!!

Now I may be thought of as greedy, that money is a major influencer, bills to be paid and all that, but the kiss and cuddle offer is far more attractive and although I am partial to the odd Sherbert Dip, experience tells me they’ll not honour that side of the agreement. Willingly I therefore accept the brief knowing in the back of my mind that this will be a difficult project from a demanding client and, as always, with very little time left to do it.

Squeezing time out of my day, running late into the evenings to meet the deadline I toil away creating the invitations. I try and unwrap the reasoning behind their temporary yet obsessive current love of things like Ben 10, My little Pony, Hello Kitty and Thomas the Tank Engine. I try and see the merit of the Nerf gun and wonder why an 8 year old and his mates would want to climb a tree and zip wire down to the ground, then do it again and again all bloody afternoon. My childhood feels so distant from theirs, Action Man was all I had, it was all I needed. Apart from my bicycle, Mr Potato Head and a game of Mousetrap rendered useless due to a few important pieces missing.

After hours of working late into the evening, countless sketches, hastily shot photos and a dozen drafts. A presentation is made. Usually at the dinner table, after they have done their homework of course! It’s a nerve wracking time, grubby fingers crease and curve the proofs, comments on choice of colours and typefaces used dominate the proceedings. Mummy points out the date is wrong and the conversation drifts onto what flavour cake, what colour and how many balloons will be needed and whose job it will be to blow them up the night before. I refocus the group and explain why a sans serif font is better suited, how the subtle elements in the image reflect the values of the host and the planned event, how the target audience will be seduced by the carefully considered mix of words and pictures and how a matching web page can increase response and make participation easier. I talk about distribution channels, print processes, delivery times and copyright issues. They must have taken this all in because what seems like thoughtful silence follows. I wait for comments, for approval that my efforts and skills have gone some way to meeting the brief, I want a ‘wow’, a ‘that is fantastic’, a sign that their choice of designer has exceeded expectations…

It never comes. The homework has been done, food has been eaten, I am now disrupting their vastly more important evening free time which takes priority over everything. So, meeting suddenly over, I am left alone at the table now holding proof artwork that has taken a toll on my life, that I have slaved over, been passionate about, has been thought about, re-thought about, worried about and excited about. It now sits in a little puddle of apple juice, has been torn a bit, has gravy stained fingerprints all over it and my daughter has kindly drawn a little picture of a rather too anatomically correct woman in the corner in pink crayon, her favourite.

Later that week I correct the date, modify the colours and reproof. This time, the night before, I just leave the print out on the kitchen table for them to look at. Come the evening I pick it back up, off the floor from under the kitchen table. It’s been torn, the fingerprints look like jam ones and my daughter has drawn a picture of me on it, in pink again, this time not very correct, I seem to have a beard, have what looks like boobs and am wearing a dress.

I try and get everyone gathered for a meeting to review the design but piano lessons, homework and the fact that I promised to read them a funny bedtime story means they have little time to give me on the subject other than a ‘yes it’s fine, go ahead’ which I take as a positive.

I arrange the printing of the invites, the matching t-shirts and the edible print that will go onto the cake. I build the web page, test browser compatibility, test the QR code and sit back with a coffee pleased with my efforts. The campaign will be over shortly and I will be able to pat myself on the back, knowing inside that I have given this project 100%, knowing that although the client, like all clients, won’t ever give me the full credit I would like, that for them, yes the design is important but they are dealing with many other issues and priorities, which is why they commissioned me in the first place, to let them get on with other things.

And that’s the point really. I can let real clients get away with all this, they’re paying me, the curse is that even though this is not a client and cuddles, no matter how big or how often, won’t pay the mortgage or buy the latest software update. The curse is I have no choice.