Spin The Black Circle

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The soundtrack to my childhood is on vinyl – somewhere.

A few years ago, having been seduced by the digital form of the CD, I decided to flog almost every record that I owned in a car boot sale – fifty pence for an album or a pound for a double. A moment of insanity that would come to haunt me.

You see, I’ve grown up with music. Dad was a ‘Hi-Fi buff’ who spent hours sat in front of his mammoth speakers in search of the ultimate ‘stereo experience’ which I found hilarious because he was deaf in one ear. Music was his passion and one of the last records he listened to was my Queen album – one of a few which I kept back from the blasted car boot sale.

The album contained The Show Must Go On. Written primarily by Brian May it’s a song about Freddie’s determination to carry on performing despite the fact that he was dying.

Inside my heart is breaking
My make-up may be flaking
But my smile still stays on

Apt lyrics for my Dad – a man who knew he was losing his battle with cancer.

My love of music starts way back in the decade of grim decor and fashion aka the 70’s. In 1978 I got my first record player along with the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever – a film that I wasn’t old enough to see. It would be a few more years before I got to see JT in his undies!

In 1979 I bought I Don’t Like Mondays by the Boomtown Rats with my pocket money and had no idea that the song was about a 16 year old girl who went on a shooting spree because she didn’t like Mondays!

Equipment itself has come a long way. Edison’s phonograph kicked it all off and has evolved into the tiniest of devices not much bigger than a stamp. (iPod). I wonder what Smack my Bitch Up would sound like on a phonograph? Edison would spin in his grave faster than Pete Burns… right round baby!

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One of Judge Jules’ early gigs ha ha – not really. Don’t sue me.

Music is much more than an art form. It connects people, or it used to.

Records were vitally important to the development of music and of all music cultures. With that being pushed by the wayside, I can’t see an iPod uniting us. In fact it separates us, the streets are full of people bumping into lamp posts, listening to their own little universe, and there’s no sharing in that. ~ John Lydon

It wasn’t always this way..

Music played a big part in boosting morale during world war two. It captured the spirit of a nation that refused to be broken by Hitler. Hearing Glenn Miller’s Moonlight Serenade evokes feelings of nostalgia and gratitude. Nostalgia because despite the hardship of the war, my parents had fond memories of that time and gratitude because I owe my life to those who died for our freedom.

My taste is eclectic which means there is a genre to suit my every mood and there are a lot of em. Rock gets my heart pumping whereas classical relaxes me. I love Punk with it’s angst and nihilistic attitude that reflected a time of teenage rebellion with the Sex Pistols summing up the attitude of a generation with “No future”. Listening to the likes of the Sex Pistols and The Clash was part of my own teenage rebellion. The day I skimmed Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols across the kitchen worktop was a memorable one to say the least. my mother miss-lit her fag in shock at the word ‘bollocks‘.

I’ll give you bollocks, Madam!~ Mum circa 1984

Despite embracing the digital form, I’ve felt disenchanted with music for a while. Then one day I had an epiphany when I realised that what music was missing was soul. And I don’t mean the genre.

CD’s are almost clinical. They have a ‘clean’ sound and while that may suit the techno sound, I think it robs other genres of it’s soul. I also missed the tactile experience of placing a record on the deck and trying to keep a steady hand (a difficult task when pissed) as I placed the needle on the record waiting for the inevitable crackle and hiss. But that’s just me. Music and sound is subjective. Millions of people have never looked back and think of vinyl only in a historical or value sense. As technology surges forward, I find myself hankering for a time of simplicity.

I deeply regret flogging my collection but am in the process of creating another one and it’s not lost on me that I’m often paying double or treble what I paid for them originally. Lesson learned. No more boot sales. Unless it’s to buy. 😉

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Music evokes powerful emotions and listening to Ella Fitzgerald transports me to days of childhood watching my mother doing her thing in the kitchen and Frank Sinatra instantly makes me think of my dad crooning along to That’s Life, Jack Daniels in one hand, Marlboro in the other. Despite the secondary smoke inhalation, those were happy times with memories that have become so important to me now that they are both gone. Music takes me to a happy place and back to a time when life was simple and happiness was a book or a new record. Simple pleasures…

My parents may be gone but they live on in the music. A record is made of up of grooves and within those grooves are memories and a memory is something that can’t be taken from you.

End Note :

Dear Boys, please don’t flog my records in a car boot sale after I’ve gone.

I will haunt you.

Love, Mum.

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The song is ended but the melody lingers on.

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Imagination Makes A Cloudy Day Sunny

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It is a happy talent to know how to play. Ralph Waldo Emerson

The 70’s was the decade of all things naff. Naff clothes. Naff decor. Naff gadgets with the height of luxury being a teasmade. Yet as hideous as it was with it’s tartan clad teens with wing spans for collars, children still enjoyed the best toy ever designed..

Imagination.

The 70’s was arguably a difficult era with strikes, three day weeks and the rise of Maggie and the Morons. Times were grim, even more so when Thatcher finally moved into number 10 in 1979.

Though times were difficult, we didn’t go without. We always had a toy on our birthdays and Santa didn’t disappoint at Christmas, despite our mother’s threats of having us put on the naughty list. We had pocket money every week which we had to earn by doing chores – mostly crap ones. Mum was SS trained and woe betide us if we moaned about doing them!

My mother was ALL about routine and her routine was cocked up something rotten during school holidays. She looked forward to the long summer one with the enthusiasm of an inmate on death row. Bless ‘er.

To be fair, we were annoying gits.

We lived in an old house with what seemed to me to be a massive garden. In retrospect it wasn’t that big it’s just that most things seem bigger from a child’s perspective, like Cadbury’s Creme Eggs.

There was a garage (separate from the house) which I wasn’t allowed to play in, not that it stopped me. To Dad, it was a place of sanctuary – somewhere to indulge his carpentry skills while Mum scoffed her way through a family sized bag of Revels during her monthly psycho do’s. To my mother, it was a place to banish him to when she wanted to watch The Gentle Touch. To me it was escapism.

One venture into the garage almost proved fatal because while I was having a root around one day, an old back door fell on top of me. By some miracle I was pulled out with just a scratch on my nose. My traumatised mother gave Dad a verbal lashing for leaving the garage door unlocked. I have no recollection of the door falling on me but Mum assured me that it did. Incidentally, a bang to the head would certainly explain a few things. Ha ha

From then on the garage was strictly out of bounds. Or so they thought because I knew where the key was kept. 😉

To this day the smell of engine oil and wood shavings are evocative of the hours I spent in there. When I wasn’t trying to kill myself under back-doors, I was reenacting my favourite TV shows, like Dallas. I could do a mean impression of Sue ‘AM GON KEEL YEEEW JR!’ in those days!

When I walked in it ceased to be a garage. It was like entering a musty old wardrobe full of moth-balled coats and walking out into Narnia. If only in my head..

I didn’t need other children to be able to play. In fact, I much preferred to play by myself. Other kids seriously cramped my style.

Toys of the 70’s were simple. Star Wars was one of the biggest films of the decade so there were the gratuitous naff toys to accompany it.  We didn’t have Kindles. We had comics and books. The highlight of my week was buying a new Enid Blyton and Christmas was never complete without an annual of some description. I do have a Kindle but I still get the biggest thrill from the old fashioned way of choosing actual books from a shop or using the library.

Technology?

Pong was as techno as it got. And it was shit.

Children watched Why Don’t You And Blue Peter for rainy day inspiration and they’d get all creative with a bog roll holder and some Plasticine. For me, rainy days were the perfect excuse to curl up for hours on end with my books because reading was where I found my bliss – escapism at it’s best.

While a part of me says you can stick your technology, another part of me is thankful for it because my son has autism and it’s proved invaluable to us.

It’s a myth that people with autism don’t have imagination. Some of the most creative and imaginative people have Aspergers Syndrome. Hans Christian Anderson, for example, is thought to have had it.

The Boy has an elaborate inner world. It may be very different from the way his peers see the world it but in my opinion the autistic mind is a beautiful mind. He has obsessions, the latest being Lego, or Legouch as I call it because I keep standing on the sodding stuff. Every day is about Lego, specifically Ninjago (Masters of Spinjitzu) have to give it the full title or he tells me off. He watches the cartoons then reenacts what he’s seen. He lives and breathes the stuff in the obsessive way that is a common of autistic children. I may be crippled from constantly standing on the stuff but at least he’s over his obsession with serial arsonist, Norman Price of Pontypandy. Small mercies, folks.

My son is happy in his world. Technology helps him to cope with the real one a little bit more by providing a distraction from the overwhelming stimulus. However, there was a simplicity in the era of my childhood that no longer exists. We are living in a digital age where children choose to stay indoors over playing outside. I already find technology to be totally overwhelming and I fear that with each technological advance humanity will take one step closer to becoming disposable. A sobering thought, no?

Yes, the 70’s was a naff-fest in fashion, decor and, well, everything but children climbed trees and tired themselves out playing. In those days, most children knew how to play.

Image Credit by JD Hancock via Creative Commons

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Letting Go

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Let go.

The words that I whispered into Dad’s ear as he struggled through his final moments.

Letting go

The last stage of grief is acceptance.

Next week will be the third anniversary of my mother’s passing.

Dad’s death was hard enough but his illness was terminal and we had time to prepare. Mum’s came as a complete shock – dying without warning of natural causes.

I experienced pain like I’d never known. The woman who had carried me in her womb, arms and heart was gone.

No goodbye.

No last I love you.

I couldn’t comprehend that my mother, who could reduce hairy-arsed workmen to quivering wrecks with her Hyacinth Bucket approach – had succumbed to death like this. I’d imagined that she’d be immortal?

Not so. Death came quickly and broke our hearts.

As if losing her wasn’t devastating enough, we had to clear and sell her house – our family home. Anybody who has gone through this will know just how hard it is to put your loved one’s life into boxes and plastic bags.

My brothers and I started this task with heavy hearts but the process took us on a journey of remembrance. There were tears of sorrow and laughter in equal measure. There was no fighting over who should have what. We instinctively knew. Also.. our mother would have flounced down from heaven itself to clip us round the lugholes if we’d have argued.

I took a lot of her personal stuff such as her clothes. I was always nicking them when she was alive, so what was new? I needed to have things that she’d touched or worn. (excluding undies – I’m not a pervert!)

I just needed to feel close to her, as close as it was possible to be..

How could something as mundane as a hairbrush become so important?

It was a plain hairbrush but a few silver strands of hair remained within the bristles.

Her hair.

Whenever I went home to see her, I’d always use her hairbrush and she’d do her nut. Mum pathologically hated anyone using her brush. She had a thing about nits. I’d finally got my hands on the hallowed hair brush without the risk of being bollocked, although a part of me expected it to fly out of my hand.

The most precious items were the brush, her engagement ring and a scarf which was infused with Eau de Mother – the unmistakable aroma of perfume and fags.

Whenever the sadness got too much, I’d take out the scarf, bury my face into it and cry my heart out.

I was angry at her for dying.

I was angry at myself for not being there.

I know now that this was a necessary part of the grieving process.

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are the stages of grief but everybody’s experience is unique to them.

I experienced all but the bargaining stage with my mother. There was nothing to bargain for as there was no forewarning. Sadness took the place of anger and it all but consumed me. But, day by day, I got through it by talking and writing about her.

Gradually her clothes have gone into charity bags until only a few special items have remained.

Three years later, the smell of perfume and Silk Cut on the scarf is all but gone but it won’t gather fluff in the bottom of the drawers. I will wear it on a winters day and remember how beautiful she looked wearing it, walking towards me in our little cafe in town.

I am no longer broken. I am no longer lost. I am just on a different path.

I will never be the woman I was before she died. How can I be when she was part of me and I of her?

I was very close to my mother and the depth of my grief is because I loved her so much. Grief, after all, is the price that we pay for loving someone.

Death is a given, yet we’re not comfortable with it unlike a lot of cultures. We fight against it. It’s still taboo.

My mother had 70 years of good health, despite a liking for gin (and whiskey) and puffing on 10 fags a day (slightly more when the gas bill came in) She lived a full and happy life! But she’s back with my dad, most likely getting 15 years worth of nagging in.

Letting go isn’t easy but it is necessary in order to move on. You never get over the loss of someone you’ve loved with all your heart but most people learn to live with it. There are no rules with grief. Some people take months, others take years. Sadly for some, moving on is impossible.

It’s taken me three years to pick myself up but I’m there and on the 27th, I will raise a glass to my wonderful mother in remembrance of a life lived with love, laughter and dignity. Despite a few moody adolescent moments of me calling her a cow, (then legging it as fast as) I am so proud to call this exceptional lady “Mum”.

She couldn’t have loved me any better.

I couldn’t have loved her more.

“But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin.”~ For One More Day  Mitch Albom

Image Credit ‘Bench’

The Flip-Flop Saga

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The car was packed with the usual 1970’s beach paraphernalia – picnic hamper, deck chairs, blanket and windbreaker. We, that is Mum, Dad my brother and I were on our way to the beach. We were almost at our destination when I happened to glance down at my mother’s feet and saw black fur where her shoes should be.

There were a couple of possibilities..

a) She’d bought along a cat, though this was unlikely as she’d gone off cats since one had the audacity to use the dining room table leg as a scratching post.

b) Her toe-hair was seriously out of control.

Unlikely, as my mother was posh (ish) and didn’t do toe-hair. In the end I went with the most obvious conclusion that she’d unknowingly committed a most heinous fashion faux pas.

‘Mum, why are you wearing your slippers?’ I piped up from the back seat. She looked down, said a word totally forbidden to us kids, then had a go at us for doing her head in – thus making her forget to change into her sandals.

When I say slippers, I mean 1970’s slippers.

Like these only in black.

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I look at these slippers and I’m instantly transported back to the 70’s and Barry White making sweaty love to my mother via Dad’s massive HiFi speakers.

After giving us a bollocking she ordered Dad to do an about turn – which he wasn’t having any of as we were almost there. He told her she’d have to buy a pair of flip-flops from one of the seafront shops.

Now for us kids.. flip-flops were part of the holiday experience. We had a bucket, spade, a pair of flip-flops and the promise of an ice-cream if we behaved. Tall order as were were little gits, but it gave us the incentive to try.

I loved the flick-flacking sound the plastic sandles made as I flipped across the sand.  I did my mothers head in with my incessant flick-flacking. Once they were on they stayed on for the rest of the holiday. They always seemed to go missing once back home. Bit mysterious, that. Or not.

Mum wasn’t a flip-flop kind of woman. She worshipped at the temple of Dr Scholl – only they were back in the caravan..

Despite the risk of amputation via the toe-post, I’d always preferred flip-flops. A lot of the girls at school had Scholl’s. I’d tried Mum’s on once when she was distracted by Corrie but they felt heavy and didn’t have the same satisfying tone of flick-flack as the flops.

So, my father was dispatched into a shop and he came out with a pair of canary yellow flip-flops. By the look on Mum’s face you’d think she’d been asked to clean out the gent’s bogs without Marigolds. She flung her slippers in the boot and put the flip-flops on.

After we’d set up camp on the beach she had a cup of tea – chained her way through a few Silk Cut’s and after a while she finally stopped glaring at the flip-flops. And us.

In those days deck chairs were for the oldies. No fancy kiddie chairs like we have today, I should coco! If we were lucky we had a blanket to sit on or an old towel but no trip to the seaside was complete without taking half the beach back in the gusset of our swimwear. Add to that a cup of lukewarm squash, a cheese sandwich (literally) and some soggy crisps because some div (probably me) had knocked their drink over. At some point Dad had given into our relentless mithering to be taken for a walk along the beach. Ma and her flip-flops came along too.

It was all going well – a proper picture postcard moment – until we came across some quick sand. To cut a long story short, Mum got stuck and Dad had to haul her out in a most undignified fashion. After a couple of tugs, her feet were freed but they came out minus a flip-flop.

The beach had claimed it in an act of retribution.

Obviously, saying  ‘As soon as we get back, these sodding things are goin in the bin!’ invoked the god of flip-flop’s wrath.

So let my mother’s lesson be a warning to you. Never diss the flops!

We probably shouldn’t have laughed as hard as we did but kids tend to laugh at stuff like that. She wasn’t in any real danger and in any case, Dad was on it faster than Usain Bolt off the starting blocks. The only real danger was that I might actually have wet myself laughing!

Of all the holidays we’ve had that day has always stayed with me. My childhood, as far as my family was concerned, was a happy time. As the years went by and after a few glasses of wine I’d remind Mum of the day she went to the beach wearing her fluffy slippers and she’d laugh after giving me the obligatory playful slap on the wrist for being a cheeky cow. Now she’s gone and the memory is bittersweet, yet it never fails to make me smile.

I just feel sad because she can no longer share it with me.

Ultimately I feel blessed to have memories like this and there are plenty more where this came from. Mum may be gone but her legacy is one of love and laughter. I can’t look at a yellow flip-flop or mule slipper without smiling.

The highlight of my childhood was making my brother laugh so hard that food came out of his nose. Garrison Keillor

Image Credit Flip Flop

Photo of 1970’s mule slippers used with the kind permission off a bloke from Ebay.

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Dad, His Prostate Cancer and Me.

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Why is that the sun always seems to shine when we get the worst news?

My dad had been suffering from horrendous back pain for months. His GP initially diagnosed a frozen shoulder and prescribed painkillers but the pain got worse and the painkillers weren’t touching it. His GP then decided it must be a slipped disc and Dad was sent to a specialist who ran some tests..

One beautiful summers day – we got the results.

I will never forget that day because it was also my 26th birthday.

I drove Mum and Dad to the hospital. We were laughing and joking in the waiting room but in a short time it would all change and our lives would be turned upside down.

Cancer.

That dreaded word.

‘Some bad news I’m afraid.. it’s cancer!’

With the consultant’s words echoing in our ears we walked out into the corridor in a state of shock and disbelief.

My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer and was referred to the relative consultant who decided to treat his cancer with hormones.

Unfortunately it was a case of ‘too little too late’ as the cancer was already spreading into his bones, which explained the back pain. And it was aggressive. So aggressive that from diagnosis to death took just 6 months.

My didn’t talk about illness. He was old school. If he was aware of a problem with his waterworks in the early stages, he didn’t talk about it but I do remember him becoming extremely agitated one day when we were out in the car because he suddenly needed to wee. This was in the previous summer. The signs were there.

Prostate Cancer – The Facts

  • Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK with over 40.000 men being diagnosed each year.
  • It usually develops slowly.
  • Symptoms often only become apparent when the prostate is large enough to affect the Urethra…at this point symptoms like an increased need to wee, straining while urinating and a feeling that the bladder hasn’t emptied properly.

These symptoms don’t necessarily mean it’s cancer – it can be due to other things like an enlarged prostate.

Prostate Cancer – The Causes

  • Age – most cases are in men 50+.
  • It’s more common in men of African descent.
  • Men who have father’s or brothers with prostate cancer have a slightly higher risk.
  • Men who exercise are at lower risk of developing it…not to mention other health problems!
  • Diet – There is evidence to suggest that foods rich in calcium, burnt food, red meat, excessive alcohol and saturated fat may increase the risk of prostate cancer.

Dad was one of the unlucky ones. A combination of pissing about (no pun intended) with diagnosis’s and his old fashioned attitude towards his own health cut his life short at 58 years of age.

 

The cancer aged him in that way that sickness ages people but he was destined never to reach old age and even now  it makes me feel incredibly sad to be without him.

He faced this bastard of a disease with the same outlook that he’d had all his life – “It’ll be OK”.

But it wasn’t going to be OK.

How could it ever be OK?

My dad was one of the nicest blokes you could hope to meet. His eyes twinkled and he’d a full on belly laugh – it was infectious!

I loved his laugh.

I loved him.

My eldest son was reminiscing about his grandad the other day and said that he could remember his wonderful laugh. That’s a great thing to be remembered for isn’t it?

And my dad laughed a lot, even with cancer rampaging through his body. It was his way of coping. It was his way of saying, “Sod you, Cancer!” He took the disease on but he was never going to win the battle.

But cancer could only take his body because the spark, which was my Dad, remained until the end.

Sadly, my story is one of loss but yours doesn’t have to be.

I have written this post in the hope that it will help to spread awareness of this type of cancer.

Be cancer aware because it may save your life or the life of someone you love.

Thank you for reading.

Some Useful Links

http://prostatecanceruk.org/

http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Cancerinformation/Cancertypes/Prostate/Prostatecancer.aspx

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“Some days there won’t be a song in your heart. Sing anyway.” – Emory Austin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Song

Dear Son,

All of us have moments in our lives which define us.

All three of my children have brought something different into my life but you, being the first, changed it beyond recognition.

Throughout my pregnancy I had advice and read books, but nothing adequately prepared me for the feelings that came when I first held you. No words that I could ever write could do justice to those feelings but I hope one day you will understand.

When I woke up on that April morning, you were two days early. I’d convinced your Dad that you were on your way. He was slightly miffed because it was the first match of the cricket season. I was secretly chuffed that I’d got one over on him but I kept my glee hidden beneath a pained expression.

“You sure it’s not just wind?”

I instinctively knew that a good fart wasn’t going to do it this time. So I grabbed my hospital bag (which I’d packed months previously) and went off to become a mother.

You kept us waiting for 21 hours  (little git!!) but you finally put in your appearance in the early hours of Sunday morning. The word’ forceps’ had been used and it’s as if you thought “Sod THAT, Mother! – I’m comin out!!”

And out you came a whoopin and a wailin – your very first performance and the one that I treasure the most.

They whipped you off to hose you down and check your bits and I was gobsmacked at how chunky you were! I was expecting something tiny seeing as your Dad and I are like Borrower’s but you broke the 8lb mark and I was like…WHOA!! I was double checking the tags to see if there had been a mix up!

While they were seeing to you, I was given a cup of tea while a nice young man in wellies checked my bits. Nice bit of info for you there, Son. You’re welcome. I keeps it real.

The midwife (and cantankerous cow) placed you in my arms and there it was – the moment which defined me.

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The little bundle is you.

Before that moment the world was still pretty much revolving around me. But when you become a parent you grow up and in the early hours of that Sunday morning – I grew up.

It stopped being about me.

It became about you.

You were the child from hell – the only one of my children to get BANNED from playgroup!

And hyper???

One lick of a Smartie and you’d be rampaging all over the place sweating and shouting “COWABUNGA!!!”.

You had waaay more energy than you knew what to do with but luckily I had the energy to chase after you.

Then there were the ‘Lynx’ years fraught with the “I HATE YOU ALL, YOU’VE RUINED MY LIFE!” *slams door* scenarios. But karma is a bitch, Son and when you are on the receiving end of your teens rampage, you will hear the distant sound of my laughter from within Shady Pines Retirement Home.

So here we are…

I’ve watched you grow up into a remarkable young man. A man who loves the limelight and that in itself fascinates me – shine a spotlight on me and I’ll die but you thrive on it. You always have –  right from the time you flounced around the school hall as a very animated Joseph in his Technicolour Dreamcoat. You wafted that coat about and completely stole the show – filling my heart with love and pride. These moments made up for you being a little git.

Watching you on stage and screen is a surreal experience for me. Sometimes I have to give myself a little pinch to make sure I’m not dreaming but what you do is only a part of who you are. Whether you act or clean bogs – it’s not about what you do but about who you are. You’ll always be my boy – the first little person ever to call me ‘Mummy’.

Whatever you do today on your special day, have fun and know that I love you with all my heart.

Mum xxx

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You cute. Me bad perm.

And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world ~ Your Song – Elton John