All Posts Filed in ‘Looking Back


Life On Mars (Better Late Than Never)


Typically for me I missed the hype of the BBC series Life On Mars a few years back but managed to acquire the first series on DVD last Christmas (that’s not the Christmas just passed, it’s the one a year ago). I have a pile of books to read as long as your arm and a pile of as-yet unwatched DVDs as long as your leg so I finally got around to watching Life On Mars this Christmas and wow, it’s brilliant!

For those like me who are several years out of date with everything (for example generally I wait until a band has broken up or died before I become a fan, not by choice, it’s just the way it seems to pan out) then the premise is that a police officer from the modern day – Sam Tyler – is involved in a car accident and wakes up in 1973 somewhat confused and still a copper. He’s not sure if he’s in a coma imagining the whole thing or has travelled back in time and his boss – DCI Gene Hunt – is a classic 70’s Sweeney-style copper who’s happy to fit someone up or beat a confession out of them just to get a result – quite contrary the current 21st century methodical approach to policing.

What made the show such a success was the way it approached the problems of racism, sexism, homophobia, police corruption and other issues of the day and showed how they came to be and why life was like that back then. By having a politically correct 21st century metrosexual thrown into that world he was a fish out of water feeling like he was on another planet and the contrasts between the attitudes in our world and that of the 70’s made me feel like I’d stick out a mile then. However what was even more clever was the way it demonstrated how nowadays crime is out of control, the police are caught up in red tape and politics, any sense of community is lost, and for all our freedoms, high technology and enlightened thinking, the world of the 70’s has its merits. By the end of the second and final season he’s become more at home in the world of the 70’s than the 21st century (I’ll leave it at that and not spoil the ending). The acting was excellent, the story-lines compelling, the music the pick of the 70’s (most of which reminded me of my early childhood) and Gene Hunt was a fantastic character with classic exchanges like this:

SAM TYLER: You’re an overweight, over-the-hill, nicotine-stained, borderline-alcoholic homophobe with a superiority complex and an unhealthy obsession with male bonding.

GENE HUNT: You say that like it’s a bad thing!

We watched season one over a couple days (having stayed up until 2.30am the first night) and immediately ordered season two which we consumed with similar gusto. It was entertaining, sad, thought-provoking and in a way made me long for the world I grew up in where a hoodie was a type of jumper, not a teenage, uneducated hooligan with no work ethic and a fondness of drinking and violence. A world where you could go out without locking your door and you knew all your neighbours. Having said that the 70’s had more than its fair share of problems like football hooliganism, women treated as second class citizens and a host of other social ills. But it’s sad that while in a lot of ways we’ve become more tolerant, understanding, technologically advanced and supposedly civilised, when I look around and read the news I can’t help but feel that in my lifetime society has never been more fractured, terrified, lawless, selfish and politically correct to the point of madness.

My Dad Aged 32 And Me Aged 34 (I must do something about that ghostly glow I have)

I often wonder what would happen if I went back in time to the early 70’s, met my father and told him what life was going to be like by the time I was his age. What would he think? Would he believe me? And would I want to go back to it? I’m not sure I would. If nothing else with my fondness for flowery shirts I’d fit right in!


The Days When The River Tay Used To Freeze Over


I’m only in my early thirties but already within my lifetime I’ve seen marked changes in the climate. I grew up in a little village called Wormit (and then latterly in a slightly bigger village next door called Newport) on the river Tay. At this point the river is just under 2 miles wide. It’s a proper, fast flowing river and many people have been swept to their deaths in it over the years.

And yet, when I was a lad I used to get woken up in the Winter by the noise of huge blocks of ice bashing into each other as they creaked their way down the river. My dad took a photo one Winter morning of the ice flows which you can see below (note the chunks of ice in the middle distance and that Dundee is lost in cloud):

Ice Flows In The River Tay

Today a mere 20 years later people would think me crazy if I suggested the river froze in Winter. You’d be lucky to see a flake of snow anywhere near the place. I remember the local schools having to close as a result of heavy snowfall and we’d sit watching the cars spinning off the road at that corner by our house (see above). Nowadays? The Winters are so mild that neither is an option.

Scotland used to have several thriving ski resorts and yet now the season is shorter, some of the resorts don’t open at all and the amount of snow is a fraction of what it was. The Winters just aren’t cold or sustained any longer and it’s happened in only a few years.

When I visited New Zealand in 2003 it was amazing to see pictures of the Franz Josef glacier as it had been just a century earlier and know that the car park a couple of miles from the glacier was covered by the glacier only a few decades earlier. Glaciers the world over are melting and ski resorts across Europe (for example) are seeing shorter seasons year on year. While periods of warm and cold are cyclical over time the years since the 1980s have seen rapid glacial melt well beyond anything predicted by scientists based on historical records.

Whether you believe that global warming is real and exacerbated by humans or whether it’s a government conspiracy used as a stick to beat tax payers with (or are somewhere in between), the fact remains that we’re coming out of an ice age earlier than expected and it’s looking increasingly likely that within my lifetime the polar ice cap may disappear completely in the summer months – consigning polar bears among other animals to history.

We have short lives and therefore a very short-term view of the world in which we live. But in that short time the world’s climate is changing, extinctions are at a level higher than at any time in the past and in geological timescales these changes are happening in an instant instead of a long time.

I often wonder what archaeologists a million years in the future looking at the fossil records would think. I suspect they’d wonder if some global catastrophe occurred in the same way we’ve wondered why the dinosaurs died out. My concern is that they’d be right. And that the catastrophe was us.


Some Photos Of My Brother And I From The 70’s


When I was last in Scotland I borrowed some 35mm slides from my dad and finally got a scanner to bring them into the 21st century. Here are some of my brother from the late 70’s that’ll make you laugh!

My dad often tells me that I spent a lot of my childhood whizzing around the place on a toy car and from this representative selection of photos I think he’s right! It’s so strange looking at pictures of myself and my brother and see that really we haven’t changed all that much. The baby ones of my brother particularly so as he had his cheeky grin right from birth!


Passengers That Ship In The Night


This story goes back to my second stint working in Leeds way back in 2004-2005. The small village in which I live – Silsden – is about a 35 minute train journey from Leeds so I would generally catch the 07:56 or 08:04 train in and most likely the 17:20 train home at night.

Like most young, red-blooded males I’d play the “who’s the best looking girl on the platform?” game every day and over time I’d start to recognise pretty much everybody who got on at my station. I’d see Mr. Sharp Suit who always buys a ticket each day, cute blonde and cuter black haired girl who drive to the station car park together and put on their make-up on the train, Miss Always Running Late who day after day would have to sprint to the platform, student boy who really needed a haircut and then of course there was Silsden Station Girl.

She was very attractive. Small. Slim. Always caught the same train in as me and the same train home. She drove a silver Vauxhall Corsa. She had a really cute laugh when on her phone to her friends. She had a lovely smile. Beautiful eyes. Great skin. Fantastic taste in clothes. And for day after day, week after week, month after month we’d always catch each other’s eye, smile, maybe even say hello, but never actually have a conversation. I even found myself sitting next to her one time and she was reading some gossip magazine about Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston which was the perfect opportunity for me to use my trademark humour to strike up a conversation but I never did. I bottled it.

Silsden Station - the left-hand platform goes to Leeds

I was of course in the middle of a relationship with my now-wife (who usually took an earlier train) so I wasn’t exactly going to start running off with her but my in-built good manners made me want to break the ice and talk to her – we were both taking the train to and from Leeds every day, we might as well have someone to chat to. Maybe I was scared of rejection, or of the dilemma of us being unable to keep our hands off each other and what to do about it (remember, I said I was a young, red-blooded male back then – logic didn’t come into my thinking). Whatever the reason, I spent a long time wanting to talk to her and never taking the opportunity. I let friends in on my secret shame, even my long suffering girlfriend (as she was back then) knew all about her, who she was and what a wuss I was.

Eventually in late-2005 I handed in my notice and was to start working in another town. This meant I’d be driving to work and no longer taking the train into Leeds. This was my chance. I decided that I absolutely would talk to her and find out her name, I’d make her laugh describing how it had taken me until I was leaving Leeds to actually talk to her. Even though I may never see her again it was beyond a joke that I’d never said more than “hello” to her – it was time to be a man.

And you know what? I never got the chance!!

For the full 3 weeks of my notice period she never once took the train into Leeds or back again. Despite metronomically taking the same trains for the past year she’d vanished off the face of the earth. Even stranger, my good lady still takes the train into Leeds and she’s never once seen her in the 3 years since.

I missed my chance. I’ll never know her name. I’ll never know anything about her. On the plus side I think the poor girl probably had a lucky escape. However it’ll always sadden me that I’ll likely go to my grave never knowing who Silsden Station Girl actually was…


My Glastonbury Festival Memories


Way back in 1999 my friend Scott phoned me up and told me he’d managed to win a couple of free tickets to the full weekend of the Glastonbury Festival and would I like to go along with him. It took me all of 2 seconds to say yes and before I knew it I was driving from Yorkshire down to Bristol (where Scott lived at the time) and on towards the festival!

I’d never been before but often had Radio 1 on over the weekend listening to the great lineup of bands. The previous year had been memorable for the torrential rain and mud although at the time I agreed to go along the thought of spending the weekend knee-deep in mud hadn’t occurred to me…

When we got near the venue we found ourselves driving at walking speed and enormous queues of traffic heading into the distance. Everybody seemed to be in cars packed full of camping equipment, quilts, deck chairs, cans of cheap lager and people with happy smiling faces. We eventually managed to get in to park, grabbed our gear and headed into the venue itself. As we got nearer we could hear very loud music rumbling in the distance and the vastness of the area became clear. I’d been to outdoor raves before in my younger days (I should probably write about that some time) but the scale of Glastonbury was enormous. When we got through the gates we were presented with tents as far as the eye could see:

Scott and a seas of tents at Glastonbury

We pitched our tent and then headed over to the main stage to see REM – who were awesome! After that it was getting dark and we thought we’d have a wander around the place to get the feel of it. Having done that we decided to head back to the tent and get some sleep – and then we realised we couldn’t find it! After a couple of hours of aimlessly wandering around in the dark thinking we might have to give up on finding it we eventually did, rolled into our sleeping backs and fell asleep.

The next morning we were greeted with scorching sunshine! Looking at the line-up in the information booklet we got on arrival we realised just what an awesome list of bands were there. We knew we wouldn’t be able to see all we wanted as a lot of them clashed but we made a good go of it. The full line-up is handily reproduced here and if you’re about my age you’ll agree it was great. I’ll always remember sitting in the sunshine watching Beth Orton play, my only worries being not getting sun-burnt! Speaking of the weather the only time it rained was a short shower right at the time Travis played their classic song “Why does it always rain on me?” – which I swear happened!

So we watched the likes of Travis (great live and a lot of banter – oh, and they’re Scottish of course), The Cardigans (great songs but Nina, the lead singer, had absolutely no stage presence or charisma at all), Super Furry Animals (fantastic show), a bit of Cast (not bad) and then we shifted over to see the Manic Street Preachers who were absolutely brilliant. They gave one of the best performances I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen many many bands since). I’d never been much of a fan before but from that set onwards I’ve loved them!

Following a day of superb entertainment we headed off to get some sleep for the final day (finding the tent first time). And what a day it was! We watched the likes of Dogstar (not an interesting band apart from the fact that Keanu Reeves played bass for them, quite well I believe), The Corrs (I fell in love with Andrea Corr on that day and would leave my good lady in a heartbeat if I had a chance with her – so nothing to worry about there then!), Lenny Kravitz (who was surrounded by some very talented musicians and gave a surprisingly good show) and The Fun Loving Criminals (who were rather entertaining).

My good self at Glastonbury

It was all over in a flash and we saw a lot of great bands and met some interesting people. It was a fantastic experience, although if I’m honest it was nice to get away from it all, back to the real world and away from so many people in a confined space. I’d never seen so many people with dreadlocks, tattoos, clothes made from hemp and other “alternative lifestyle” indicators in one place!

I gather though that Glastonbury has changed quite a lot since I went. Tickets back then cost about £80 for the weekend and are now double that, which I’m sure has priced a lot of people out of it. It’s a lot more commercialised than it used to be and is targeted at a different type of person than 10 years ago – it was the student set and now it’s overrun by the prawn sandwich brigade. I suppose that’s the way of the world these days, which is a shame, but if people go along and have a great time then who am I to say it’s a bad thing? You won’t catch me going again (unless someone comes up with free tickets), but I’ll still be tuning in on the radio and TV to hear the bands and reminiscing about a weekend in the sunshine in a field in Somerset. Happy days. 🙂


The March Of Time


Time Passing AwayI’ve always been fascinated by the march of time. Expressions like: “time flies when you’re having fun“, “time goes faster the older you get“, “time waits for no man” and the immortal words of Ferris Bueller: “Life goes by pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it” roll off the tongue easily. But since time doesn’t actually speed up and slow down – only our perception of time does – I often find myself wondering why.

When I was a kid the Summer holidays seemed to go on forever. Now the Summer goes by in the blink of an eye and it’s Winter and dark nights before I know it. Likewise a year when I was 12 seemed like a lifetime but now 2 years seems to fly by before I’m used to writing down the current one! I’m already at the stage where if someone asks my age I actually have to sit down and work it out.

My trouble with the increasingly fast passage of time is that I love life, always try to make the most of it and want to make the most of my younger days while I can. So I often ponder why things seem to go so fast now and I think I know the answer.

When you’re 12 everything is new. You’re learning all the time. If you go on holiday it’s a completely new experience. When I’d go camping with my father I’d be looking out of the car window constantly seeing new scenery, looking out for animals, particular cars, looking at every cloud, every hill. I’d be like a sponge absorbing my surroundings. Summer holidays at home would be a constant adventure, every day different. I’d maybe go out on the bikes with friends, go for a walk in the woods or fields near my house, scramble along the rocks on the riverside or a whole host of other things. Since everything was new and different I’d be paying attention all the time and making the most of every moment.

Now that I’m 33 (I had to think about that for a moment) I’ve pretty much encountered every experience I’ll ever encounter – or at least everything I’ve experienced has prepared me for anything I can come up against. If I go into an unfamiliar shop to buy a chocolate bar I’ve done it a million times before, know the routine by heart and can perform the whole transaction without switching my brain on – I’m running on autopilot. When I went into a sweet shop as a kid I was like… eh… a kid in a sweet shop. I’d have no idea what I was going to buy and would be looking longingly at all the selections deciding what to get. I’d have to make sure I had enough money, remember to be polite to the man behind the counter (it always seemed to be a man for some reason) and be ready to deal with anything I wasn’t expecting (maybe a discount on a quarter of strawberry bon bons). Ah, those were the days.

Likewise if I drive into the middle of nowhere camping these days the journey is more of an inconvenience and I’m concentrating on getting to my destination rather than the bit in between (whether I’m driving or not). As a kid my face would be plastered to the window looking at anything and everything (just as well I wasn’t driving really).

I think when you’re a kid you’re learning so much and your attention is in the moment all the time, whereas once you get older you’ve done it all before and so tend to switch your attention off most of the time while your brain runs on cruise control. This is something I’ve been trying my best to avoid since I realised it’s what was happening.

Whenever I take a train to and from Leeds I like to look at the scenery. I’m travelling somewhere and it’s nice to look out the window as I frequently see lots of interesting things. I saw a fox the other day, a heron patiently fishing and I’m fairly sure I’ve even seen the odd deer. But when I look at my fellow passengers most of them are staring into space, their eyes glazed over and their brains switched to the off position. Sure, after a hard day’s work they’re probably tired and looking forward to getting home and (being Yorkshire) having something to eat – but I can’t help but feel sorry for what they’re missing. Every day that you spend with your brain disengaged not noticing the world around you wishing it was 5pm is a day you’ll never get back. Little chunks of time soon add up and before you know it 10 years have passed and you wonder where they went.

When I was a kid my dad used to frequently say “I haven’t seen him in 20 odd years” and I couldn’t perceive such a vast length of time. Now I frequently find myself saying the same thing and thinking how quickly they went. I want in 20 years to reminisce about now but it feel like a long time ago packed with experiences and memories I’ll want to hold onto. Because if I don’t I’ll regret it, want them back, and that just isn’t going to happen. Not so much the march of time but the meandering wanderings of time. It sounds like much more fun!


My 5 Minutes Of Geek Fame


Everybody gets their 5 minutes of fame don’t they? Well I’m no exception, although unfortunately it’s not the sort of fame you’d use as a chat-up line when attempting to court young women at a local pub. Well, not the sort of real-ale serving pubs I like to go to at least!

The sad fact though is that despite getting my photo in the local newspaper (they spelt it wrong as is the custom), despite being flown down to London for an awards ceremony, despite earning the respect of my peers, despite earning the kudos and admiration of the teachers at my school (there you go, I’m giving it a time-frame now) it seemed that my 5 minutes of fame was to disappear into oblivion. Googling for this momentous achievement – my crowning glory if you will – never returned anything relevant. There’s no Wikipedia page for it (speaking of which, where’s my Wikipedia page?!). Even my award certificate had vanished (assuming I’d ever been presented with one). No, all I had were my memories and I was going to have to bury them and recant the tale to my poor grandchildren in decades time starting with the line “Have I ever told you about my 5 minutes of fame…?”. Like a true grandparent I’ll ignore the moans of despair from them (as they’d heard it a hundred times before) and tell the story anyway. Of course by then I’ll wonder if it ever happened at all or if I’d just imagined it…

Guess which one I am!

However my father is moving house soon and while clearing years of rubbish out he came across my hallowed award certificate. It proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have indeed had my 5 minutes of fame and yes, despite attempting to join the Royal Marines (and coming damn close), despite playing tough, physical sports like football, despite climbing many mountains and competing in several endurance events, despite having a crew cut for many years (although not at this particular time) – underneath it all I’m a complete geek. I’ve hidden it well but must finally hold up my hands and tell you the truth…

I (and some classmates) won THE TIMES TOURNAMENT OF THE MIND!

My winner's certificate!“The Times Tournament of the what?” I hear you ask? Well back when I was a kid at school the national newspaper (The Times) ran a competition set by brainiacs Mensa. My memory is vague but I believe that each week a set of questions would be printed and teams of schoolchildren around the country would try to solve them and by some iterative process one team would win outright and earn a prize for their school. If you’ve ever done an IQ test then you’ll know the sort of brainteaser questions they set. You’d get a set of shapes and have to work out what the next one was. Or some puzzle whereby two cars are moving towards each other accelerating by a certain amount to certain speeds and you have to work out where they pass. That sort of thing. They’d get more fiendish and tricky every week to the point where even the teachers (who weren’t supposed to help) would get stumped.

Fortunately myself, 9 of my classmates (who I’m sure were all much smarter than me) and our maths teacher – Ken Nisbet – managed in 1989 to get all the way through to the final and win it! It was quite an experience and considering we were competing against children much older than ourselves I think we did rather well. We won a computer for our school which was a big deal back then along with a trip to London (which seemed a million miles away from St. Andrews at the time).

And that, for the record, is my 5 minutes of fame. 🙂

As an aside, Ken Nisbet (who I believe still teaches at the school I went to – you can see him in that photo of the team above) was and no doubt still is quite a character. He had a real enthusiasm for maths and managed to make learning about triangles, calculus and all sorts of other aspects of maths actually seem interesting and entertaining. I really looked forward to his classes. The fact that I’ve managed to build a successful career as a software developer – which at its core is all about maths and problems solving – is thanks in no small part to the way he managed to capture my imagination. It’s easy to live your life and forget the people who actually got you where you are today – but to people like him I owe a great deal of gratitude. Thanks Ken, you’re a star!


Some Thoughts For Mother’s Day


When I was on holiday on the Isle of Arran back in August of 2007 I sat down and wrote an article I’d written many times over the years about the death of my mother. I’d wanted to explain what the process of losing her had been like from the first days up until years later when I’d come to terms with it. But every time I sat down to write it I just wouldn’t be happy with it and hit Delete. Not so this time.

I never bought my mother flowers much but wish I could buy her some today

I hadn’t really thought about the loss of my mother for a while but for some reason after a day out walking on the hills I just sat down and wrote Losing My Mother (what I believe to be the best piece of writing I’ve ever done) in about half an hour. When I read it back to myself with tears streaming down my face I realised I’d captured the essence of what the experience of losing my mother and learning to live with it was and is like. I handed it over to my good lady (who knew my mother very well and felt the loss almost as much as I did) to proof read (she proof reads most of what I post here believe it or not) and she soon had tears running down her face before agreeing that it was “a lovely article”. Almost immediately I felt like a weight had lifted off my shoulders having put into words what I’d spent the previous 5 years learning to live with.

But it wasn’t until a couple of months later that I actually published the article here and was very tempted to just post it with comments disabled. Fortunately I thought better of it and left comments open and I’m so glad I did. If you have a look at the comments people have left you can see that I’m by no means the only person this has happened to and a lot of people have thanked me for expressing the same things they’ve been feeling and offered their own thoughts too. From my point of view it’s so nice to realise that I’m not alone with other people out there having gone through the same thing as me. It’s given me a great deal of comfort and those people have often said they feel some comfort from what I’ve written.

Friends often ask me why I have this site and why I talk about my life so openly and I can never really answer them other than to say “because I do”. But writing a very personal post for me more than anybody else on a subject I’d not often talk about in the real world (it’s not a good topic to bring up at dinner parties) and getting so much positive feedback, connecting with people I’d never have touched otherwise is a pretty damn good reason if you ask me.


Once They’ve Got Your Name They’ve Got You


As I’ve written about in detail before I applied to become a Royal Marine Officer when I was younger, cockier, fitter and had better knees. I came within a cat’s whisker of making it and if I’d been even cockier I’d have passed first time. At the time I was particularly proud to pass the Officer selection course which consisted of all sorts of fun activities like press-ups, running with a telegraph pole slung over your shoulder for hours, being dragged through underwater tunnels and discussing politics and world affairs. But when I eventually failed to get in I was really gutted, although looking back it was the best thing that happened to me as it made me realise nothing is mine by right, I have to work for it. Plus now that I’m in my 30’s all that getting shot at in Afghanistan sounds less than the fun I thought it would be in my early 20’s.

A letter I received from the MODAnyway, I digress. This morning a letter turned up from none other than the Ministry Of Defence. It had been sent to my father’s address and he passed it on to me. You may or may not have heard that just the other week a laptop was stolen containing the personal details of some 600,000 people including such things as names, addresses, passport details, national insurance numbers and so on. The BBC wrote about it here. There’s been a spate of missing government laptops being stolen along with CDs containing details of all UK benefits claimants going missing. I always shake my head at the incompetence of the people who lose these things, don’t properly secure data or are so stupid as to send unencrypted CDs through the post!

However according to the letter I received from the MOD, my details were on the laptop that was stolen! Ten years ago I applied to join the Royal Marines and they still have my personal data lying around on someone’s laptop sitting in the back of their car. Idiots!

The letter reassures me that while my passport details, National Insurance number, driver license details, family details, doctors address and National Health Service number might be included in the stolen information, I can rest easy knowing that my bank details were not. Nice! So more than enough information to steal my identity, set up a bank account in my name, create some loans and not repay them, but at least they can’t get at my current account…

Fortunately the passport details they have are no longer valid, my address has changed, as has my doctor. But that’s about it. We don’t think twice before handing over our personal details to various institutions but we never consider the fact that our details might be hanging around in their systems 10 or 20 years later just waiting to be stolen. Having worked in the IT industry for many years I can testify to the incompetence of the vast majority of the people in it and therefore don’t hold out much hope that this sort of problem’s going to go away.


A Christmas At Home For A Change

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Putting the finishing touches to the treeI seem to have spent the past few Christmases suffering from jetlag. Last year I flew back from Australia on Christmas Eve and my brother had just come back from San Francisco which meant that all of us were knackered. A couple of years before that we were in New Zealand. Other years we’d be spending a few days in Yorkshire then trailing up to Scotland to visit my dad which meant driving through snow blizzards praying we didn’t spin off the road and coming back down doing the same thing. Stress stress stress.

So it’s with great pleasure that when asked what I’m doing this Christmas and New Year I can reply that I’m “staying at home”. My dad and brother are coming to visit us, then they’re going back and leaving us to relax and actually enjoy a peaceful holiday at home! As you can see (pictured above) I’m getting in the spirit already by putting the star on the tree. My good lady finished the job but at least I did something! 🙂

I’m not hugely into Christmas myself – I always say that Christmas is for kids. The wonder and anticipation I felt as a child waiting for Santa to come around followed by the delight and joy of opening presents isn’t the same when you’re an adult and you already have all the things you want (except underwear – you can never have enough). Better to use Christmas to pass on that wonder, anticipation, delight and joy to them instead. God help the poor things if I ever have kids!