I’ll preface this by saying straight away that we are all OK; alive, accounted for, and healthy (-ish; arthritis, asthma, cancer etc notwithstanding), just in case that title is worrying.

I was an anxious adolescent in some ways for a while, risk averse. The sensible one. At university a bunch of drunken epiphanies made me more devil-may-care: what’s the worst that can happen? If nobody dies, anything’s game. The natural boundary-pushing and identity-seeking of young men, I guess. Life catches up with you, though.

We’ve experienced a lot of tangential grief lately, and it’s brought back a lot of unpleasant, powerful, deep-seated emotions from four years ago, and ignited new ones, ones I haven’t really had to deal with so far in my life.

To give context, two people in our orbits have died recently, and died far, far too young and unexpectedly, from – as far as we understand – horribly similar circumstances, albeit with completely different histories.

The second, earlier this week, was my age, someone at work who I used to play football with, who became a dad at about the same time as I did, who I used to tease (Arsenal vs Tottenham) and joke with in the way that guys do. I didn’t know him well, but I knew him, our paths crossed in many ways and we had mutual friends. I’m searching for a profound end to that sentence, but I cannot find one: I can only describe. Now he is dead, and our paths won’t cross anymore, and it sends tiny shockwaves across my consciousness, that intersect with other shockwaves and amplify them.

If that death was tragic, the other is heart-breaking. Paralysing. One of Nora’s friends, only eight years old, who had been through many of the same things as Casper has but even more intense and awful. Lockdowns and circumstances meant Nora hadn’t seen them in a long time, but I still remember them, two or three years old, at Friday café, screaming at each other, the loudest, most demented thing you’ve ever heard.

I remember, in the midst of Casper’s chemo, their mum striding up to me in Sainsburys one evening, when I was disoriented and confused and struggling with the horror of it all, and her saying – I barely knew her, had met her maybe once, but Em knows her well, goes to book club with her as well as Friday café and all the other things mums of toddlers do together – and she said “you’re Casper and Nora’s dad aren’t you: shit, isn’t it” with such conviction and empathy and forthrightness that it baffled and comforted me at the same time, to know that other people understood wtf we were going through. Those few words meant a huge amount.

When your kid is immune compromised, a temperature of 38 is something you keep watching for like a hawk, in case it means infection, and possible sepsis. Sepsis is the fucking bogeyman. Horror films – Freddy, Jason et al – they have nothing on sepsis. Nothing scares me like that does. Nora’s friend was meant to be through the worst of it, was meant to be safe now. I cried again when I drove past their house today.

When we first heard, people in our mutual orbits kept reaching out to Em and me, saying they thought of us when they heard, were we OK, and we were quietly baffled. I told work and they said to not worry about anything for a few days. We spent the day drinking tea and watching Bluey and crying and being dragged through time to emotions and fears from four years ago, emotions and fears that still live, trapped, bound and gagged mostly, in the back of our heads and hearts. But that come out every so often.

I went for breakfast the next day with a friend who knows them too, much better than I do in fact, and we talked and cried and drank tea and coffee and even laughed a little at the memories we had (the shouting!). “It’s fucking horrible” I said. There’s no other way to describe it. That doesn’t describe it.

I’ve wanted to write this for a few weeks, but didn’t want to hijack someone else’s grief, another family’s pain, because as bad as what we have been through was, and still is because we’re still in it even though Casper is well (1900 hours today, running around the kitchen with a pasty in one hand and his willy in the other yelling “get to work!” wtf?), that most awful thing – that permanent, brutal ending – didn’t happen to us. It is still a spectre in our periphery, something we contemplate, and will have to contemplate more in the future in all likelihood. Broadly, I hope it won’t happen while Em fears that it will. That’s the split in our personalities. Glass half empty or half full? Let’s go to the tap and fill the glass / there is no glass to fill.

But it has happened to our friends. And it is fucking shit. It is the worst thing you can imagine. You can’t comprehend it. I have imagined it.

We talked about when and how to tell Nora. We told her that day when we got her home from school. She cried, but she’d barely seen them in three years, and at that age kids grow so fast and forget so much as their brains and hearts are filled and emptied over and over again. It affected us much more. Weeks later it still makes me cry.

A few days after we heard I had to pop into the hospital to pick up Casper’s meds. Casper and Nora’s friend share the same medical team, and we’ve come to know them well over the years. They’re an ebullient, positive, lovely bunch; you have to be, I imagine, to work in paediatric oncology. They looked more broken and battered than I’d ever seen them.

What we’ve been through changes you. Casper’s illness is the defining event of my life, the most prominent part of my psyche and my character, or so it feels. I don’t want it to be. And maybe life will unfold in other ways over the years to come. If there are years to come.

Let the ones you love know that you love them.

So, Casper started school…

Four years ago, in the midst of chemo, we didn’t know whether he’d get to go to school. But he’s just started his fourth week there, and goes in happily each morning (even if he does demand to be carried home on my shoulders if possible). His teacher calls him “Mr Smiley” because he has the biggest smile in class, apparently, and he seems to really enjoy it. We had a few tears in the first week, but nothing unbearable: a few tears here and there are a good thing, anyway.

We’ve had very, very nascent conversations with his team about thinking about exit strategies from dabrafenib. We’d keep him on it forever, given the chance, but it seems as if the trend is towards bringing them off it and monitoring closely to see if the LCH comes back. The idea is scary: the dabrafenib keeps him well and is relatively low-effort. But it’s experimental. Which means experimenting, I guess. They’ll not do anything during his first year at school.

So, life goes on for us. There are bumps in the road, and we still can’t see all that far ahead, but what we can see is alright, right now.

“How’s Casper?” “He’s a dickhead.”

The person you’ve just bumped into and are catching up with, because you haven’t seen each other for ages, because, y’know, global pandemic that’s killed millions and kept people shut in their homes in an unprecedented way for almost two years, may well go all serious and slightly lower their tone of voice and say “How’s Casper?” after a little while, because, y’know, cancer. It’s nearly three years since he started dabrafenib, and, essentially, he’s fine (with lots of monitoring), and he’s also three (AND A HALF) and cute (and also has cancer) so gets away with bloody murder, so the response is generally slightly brutal and tongue-in-cheek. “He’s a dickhead.” “He’s an asshole.” “He’s a wanker.” And then they laugh, and it diffuses the mood a little, and you explain that he’s still on the same drug and basically in controlled remission and ‘fine’, whatever that means, and oh, he was just in hospital yesterday for an ultrasound / ECG / blood test, because we’re still checking him constantly in case it comes back and tries to eat him alive from inside again in secret like it did when he was a baby.

Or maybe an older lady who I don’t know from Eve will see him in the street and comment on his lovely curly blonde hair, “where does he get it from?” she asks, while looking at my straight, grey-flecked brown receding man’s hair, and I’ll have to bite my tongue to not say “oh it’s from his cancer drugs because he’s got cancer”, because it probably is. Simon his consultant calls it his ‘dabrafenib hair’. It’s extraordinary. Golden corkscrews pointing out in all directions. He’s very proud of it. Draws strength from it, like Samson. One day we might have to explain that it’s because of his meds and ergo because of his cancer, and then there’s a whole host of identity crisis questions that come after that – who would he be if he hadn’t had cancer? Are aspects of himself that he loves and takes pride in – like his amazing hair – only there because cancer tried to kill him?

This was meant to be a quick childhood cancer / LCH / Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis update. Because I promised I’d make updates in case anyone found this blog by googling LCH etc because their kid had been disgnosed with it, and they wanted reassurance that god didn’t hate them and things will be alright, and what does LCH look like a few years down the line?

Well, Casper is kind of OK. The future is unknowable – will he stay on dabrafenib forever, will the trial want to bring him off and monitor in the hope the LCH doesn’t come back, will the drug stop working all of a sudden because it’s still an unknown quantity, is this behavioural quirk because he’s three (AND A HALF) and a boy or is it a side-effect? We ponder questions like these a lot. We don’t have answers to any of them. The low-level paranoia and dread you feel never quite goes away. The side-effects on you as a parent can be brutal – I’ve been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthiritis (at 42!), which is almost certainly brought about / exacerbated by the stress of the last three+ years (arthritis being an auto-immune condition, immune systems being ravaged by stress). It’s under excellent control with medication, but, y’know, it’s another added complication to an already complicated life.

So yeah, there’s hope, there’s joy, there’s love, life goes on, etc etc. But it will. Never. Be. The Same.

On playing Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay

My friends and I played a lot of games as kids; roleplaying games, wargames, boardgames, computer games (starting with Bubble Bobble and moving through Sim City to Tetris, Mario, Street Fighter 2 and, eventually, ISS Pro Evolution: I pretty much stopped there), made-up games, playground games, football games (not always football itself, but Headers & Volleys, or Passing & Shooting, set-ups to try and score outrageous goals or keep the ball in the air) and more besides. I have a terrible memory for events, for things I actually did, but a good memory for ideas and facts and concepts, so I can’t remember individual instances of playing, but I know we did.

We played Dungeons & Dragons a bunch of times, enough that I recognised something in the Stranger Things kids and Pixar’s Onward, but it was only ever an enjoyable diversion, never a passion. We dallied with a bunch of other RPGs and pseudo-RPGs – Marvel Heroes, Call of Cthulu, Heroquest – and various Games Workshop products; I still love Space Hulk (and even bought a second-hand copy of a recent edition), and would probably enjoy Blood Bowl again, although assembling entire armies for Warhammer Fantasy Battle or 40k always seemed far too daunting to ever actually finish one to a point where you could play a game (though we played many half-games with unpainted armies).

A few years ago, thanks to Matt, I got back into boardgames via Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan. But, as with so many things, I’m often dilettantish, picking things up, enjoying them, and then putting them down and moving to the next thing. (Flamme Rouge! Ticket to Ride! Pandemic… not really any further. I gather Terraforming Mars is good.)

The same goes for my approach to fantasy fiction. My dad read me Lord of the Rings when I was a kid, and I re-read The Hobbit years later, but Tolkein never really did it for me beyond enjoying the spectacle of the Peter Jackson films, and the idea of it, of some ordinary people getting caught up in extraordinary circumstances, and doing on an adventure. I never dug any deeper. I don’t really understand what The Silmarillion is, and more importantly I don’t want to. I read CS Lewis as a pre-adolescent, and then devoured Pratchett from the ages of 12 to 18 or so.

Likewise I watched Game of Thrones as a piece of entertainment, but never felt any need to read the books. I’ve only recently read the first Harry Potter book, and that was to my daughter. I have read – and loved – Pullman’s His Dark Materials, including the little offshoots and the sequel trilogy (or the two of it released thus far), and thoroughly enjoyed the TV adaptation (the film not quite so much, though it’s not without merit), but there are a million other fantasy worlds out there – in books and games and films and who-knows-what-else – that I’ve never engaged with at all. I’ve never read any Moorcock, but I had a subscription to White Dwarf from the age of about 10 (1989) to about 14 (1993), when I started getting NME instead. Probably because I thought girls were more likely to pay me attention if I was geeking out about music than about made-up worlds with elves and dwarfs.

So it’s intriguing and amusing to me that, after decades away, I’ve come back to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and for the last year have been running a weekly session with four friends where I GM (‘games master’, fyi) them through a campaign (some of us in person, some of us via videolink, all of us via video for the strictest lockdowns, and even all of us together in the garden once), which takes a bunch of nobodies from less-than-humble origins through a sinister web of plots to overthrow a realm based roughly on the early-renaissance Holy Roman Empire (or “Space Germany” as we call it).

What is it about Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay? I was borderline obsessed with it as a 12 year old and am again, 30 years later, at 42 years old. It was the only roleplaying game I played with any conviction, the only one where I bought and read sourcebooks as if they were novels rather than rules, where I dreamed about playing in campaigns that lasted years (even though we seldom made one last more than a few weeks). The only game where I would sometimes grab the rulebook and some dice and a pad of paper and roll up a random character, just to imagine their narrative, the journeys they’d go on, how they’d develop, what they’d bring to a party of adventurers, because I enjoyed doing it. I wore out the softback of WFRP 1e (and recently found myself a copy in very good condition in eBay, for nostalgia’s sake – just flicking through it and seeing those illustrations and page layouts brought back intense sense memories). I can’t remember what I did with all the old sourcebooks I had, but I can’t find them anywhere at my house or my parents’ house, which leads me to believe that someone got a bloody great find in a Dawlish charity shop at some stage.

I abandoned all this, abruptly, when I went to university, if not before. Which I suspect isn’t unusual. But some twenty-plus years later I had an imagination itch during lockdown and furlough, and scratched it via google, which lead to me finding out that WFRP 4th edition existed. And, moreover, was ‘remastering’ some of the key components of first edition, including that campaign about sinister plots, which I’d owned all the books for and always wanted to play through, but never had.

WFRP – to use the acronym – was the roleplaying game that made most sense to me as a mechanical system, too. The way the profile worked, the fact that pretty much everything worked off a percentage chance based on your character’s abilities, which meant you could improvise almost anything you could imagine. It also – I realise now more than when I was 11 – wore its radical 80s leftwing roots on its sleeve: orc warlords called Mag Uruk Thracker (say it out loud) causing trouble for dwarf miners, adventures built around the insane, chaos-worshipping corruption of wealthy merchants and the landed nobility, the fact that the heroes start off as Rat Catchers and Pedlars rather than Paladins or Barbarians, the downtrodden realising that those in power are in cahoots with evil forces.

(It’s probably not by coincidence that Games Workshop, in the 90s, turned away from this ethos and towards a glossy New-Labour-like hero-worshipping commercialism, ditching the book-heavy roleplaying side of things and concentrating on shifting lots and lots and lots of lead and plastic.)

It’s this slightly murky 80s realism – obviously it’s not realistic in any way: there are still magic elves, ffs, they’re just very, very rare – that’s riven through WFRP’s DNA. Instead of a ‘class’ you follow a career scheme, slaving away to become a slightly more respected Rat Catcher, dreaming about working your way up from Peasant to Village Elder, or a Brigand to a Bandit King (or Queen). Adventures are what happens in between the dull tedium of your actual job. Even innocuous bar brawls can result in mutilation and broken bones, never mind sword fights. You’re not plunging bravely into dungeons with magic swords, slaying dragons for treasure – you’re stumbling into dangerous rituals you don’t understand, getting coshed by footpads for walking down the wrong alley, being ambushed by terrible creatures because you travelled down a country road after dark.

The fourth edition has solved a bunch of mechanical issues I had with the first edition. No longer will you spend round after round of combat with both assailants failing to hit each other. The careers have been balanced to benefit good roleplaying rather than a good advance scheme: which is to say that you can be a terrible Witch Hunter or a REALLY good Villager, and both can add a lot of value to a party of adventurers if you’ve got imagination. The addition of Success Levels (ie how well you pass a test) helps propel the imagination – my players love them, and ask what difference they make on even innocuous pass/fail rolls. If there’s a fault it’s the surfeit of rules to cover pretty much any circumstances you (or your party) can imagine, and those rules are spread across several books (and not always in an easy-to-remember way). But there’s also one golden rule outlined very clearly in the main book; you can ignore all the other rules if you want, as long as you have fun. This is the one we play by most, and understand how to deploy it much more now than we did when we were 13.

Because that’s the main thing – we have fun. We all laugh a LOT, and I manage to make my players look concerned and even scared for the wellbeing of their characters on a reasonably frequent basis. We can each recall different moments of the story from the last year that have tattooed themselves on our memories – the crazy dwarf fighting mutants on rooftops; the hapless Outlaw finally hitting and killing something with an arrow and it being a giant beastman just about to kill everyone; the Rat Catcher’s eyes changing colour mysteriously and freaking everyone out; the normally talk-first Physician stabbing a kidnapper down a dark alley because he’d abducted a child. It’s nonsense, of course, but it’s dramatic, perilous, amusing, and enjoyable nonsense. I hope we keep doing it for another year, or two, or three, or more, to come.

Some thoughts on Star Wars

Gosh there’s been a lot of Star Wars lately. If I hadn’t had kids just before all this Star Wars, I’d probably have written about it profligately. But I’ve been time-poor, so I’ve just watched. And built Lego.

Anyway, here are some thoughts, in no particular order, unedited, written in between making breakfast and washing up and fixing Duplo spaceships…

There will be spoilers here, obviously.

  • The Mandalorian is the single Star Wars thing I’ve cared most about since Return of the Jedi. And maybe ever. More on why later. First, those big films…
  • The Force Awakens was a great fun theme park ride of a film, that seemed very intentionally to set out to hit the same kind of big dramatic and thematic beats as A New Hope, thus rekindling a love affair for grown-ups like me, and winning a whole new audience of youngsters. That’s absolutely fair enough, and probably the correct thing to do. After winning those audiences, surely the next step – for anyone with creative and narrative ambition – is to take the story somewhere new?
  • The Last Jedi appeared to do just that. If I was crazy I’d say it was a Marxist and feminist spin on Star Wars, that showed strong women making difficult but wise strategic decisions and exercising leadership, that put significant hope for the future in the hands of the ordinary, the downtrodden, and the young people of the galaxy (hope lies with the proles), which gave an honest and sensible portrayal of where Luke Skywalker would likely end up (from his first screen moment he’s been a whiny, self-interested, adolescent dreamer, and never really shown much evidence that he grew beyond that), and which raised a metaphorical curtain on the means of production (base and superstructure, if you like) that enables the Empire / First Order to exist, which was explored boringly in the prequel trilogy and touched on in Clone Wars. It set up several different and intriguing avenues that the final film of the new big tentpole trilogy could go down.
  • The Rise of Skywalker then took all those interesting potential leads and threw them in the bin, giving us only the character design of Babu Frik and Zori Bliss in their place, plus a bazillion sub-aquatic Star Destroyers. (Where do the raw materials to make these things come from? Never mind the labour? Or is it all just Sheev’s enormous Sith willpower?) It is a massive, nonsensical turd, that panders to an audience that it thinks is far dumber than it actually is. For this I blame JJ Abrams, who absolutely embodies Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle.
  • Yes, I know I’m writing about Star Wars and citing style-over-substance and Debord, but actually you can have both. Having both is what makes things rewarding. Having narratives that make sense is rewarding, too.
  • JJ’s attempt at subversive, nuanced narrative involved having a Storm Trooper clean toilets, literally a joke stolen from Clerks. He had some subversive imagery in the first film, to be fair, but that’s all it was – imagery. As evidenced by the fact that potentially interesting characters were created in the first two films, and then basically ignored in the third film, instead of having any kind of character arc. Finn was chucked in the bin. Rose was chucked in the bin. Poe was chucked in the bin. The two Caucasian characters got made into quasi-gods, scions of the most powerful families in the galaxy, hereditary Force peers, while all the working class people of colour and diverse heritage got ignored, or else arbitrarily paired-off with people just like themselves. Plus that same-sex kiss. Tokenistic. Spectacle. ‘Show not tell’ is absolutely a good maxim for filmmaking, but sometimes you need to earn the ‘show’ bit too. JJ didn’t a lot of the time.
  • He also seems, repeatedly throughout his career, to come up with interesting propositions for things that he then absolutely cannot see through satisfyingly, tying himself up in increasingly implausible Godrian knots that he can’t get out of. I’ve been GMing an RPG campaign for some friends in recent months, so I understand that prescriptive, obvious, linear plots planned out fastidiously in advance are not narratively as rewarding as ones which take surprising but understandable turns, but JJ didn’t even seem to have a set of themes or goals mapped out in advance. He just had a bunch of ideas for things that would look cool on screen, and he chucked them on screen, and then he had to try and figure out what they meant later. And he fucked it up.
  • For context, I’m running WFRP, not D&D. The miserable, filthy, European, low-fantasy version where you get taxed unfairly and die of infected wounds and no one ever has a magic sword.
  • It would have been far more interesting if The First Order had arisen not because of Sheev’s enormous dead Sith willpower, but rather out of a very human psychological need for control, order, and limitation-disguised-as-freedom, ideas explored tangentially in The Mandalorian.
  • It would have been far more interesting – and a much more worthwhile philosophical message – if Rey had been a nobody as hinted, just a desert planet scavenger with no heritage who happened to be Force sensitive. Hope lies with the proles, etc.
  • Oh look, Din Djarin is a nobody, an orphan, a foundling. Not even a real Mandalorian. And is far more human, and interesting, as a result.
  • “Everything the Empire touches, it improves” says Werner Herzog, reeling off a list of things the Romans have done for us. In the final episode of The Mandalorian the imperial shuttle pilot refers to Din Djarin and his motley crew as “terrorists”. These attempts to add nuance to the political landscape of the Star Wars galaxy worked massively for me. Like our own world it is complex, multi-faceted: bad people do good things, good people do bad things, and bad and good don’t actually exist – just differing opinions.
  • This obviously runs counter to that whole Light Side / Dark Side thing.
  • I feel like there are a few things that make Star Wars Star Wars, and these are:
    • A battered spaceship that somebody lives in
    • Storm Troopers, or variations thereof
    • Droids
    • A struggle that’s bigger than the people undertaking it
  • Note that I have not included Jedi in this list.
  • Or lightsabers.
  • I really, really hoped that The Mandalorian would steer clear of Jedi. I was OK with Ahsoka – she’s technically left the order by this point, which makes her more interesting than most other Jedi for a start – but I really hoped that it would explore different bits of the Star Wars galaxy, and leave all that Jedi stuff for the cinemas.
  • Yes I know Baby Yoda was obviously massively Force sensitive. But, like Chirrut Îmwe in Rogue One, the fact that he wasn’t actually a Jedi made him more interesting. We’ve seen a LOT of Jedi. Seeing how people who aren’t part of that (slightly sinister) church can use the power of the Force too is not something we’ve seen much of.
  • Which is why I was disappointed when the X-Wing showed up in the finale, and the dude in the black cloak with one glove and a green sabre deus-ex-machina’d his way through a whole platoon of Dark Troopers without breaking a sweat.
  • CGI faces on real people, whether they’re de-aging or resurrecting, always lift me immediately out of my suspension of disbelief. I didn’t like it with Moff Tarkin or Leia, and I didn’t like it with Luke either.
  • I am aware I’m likely in a minority in not getting a massive Force boner when the Luke reveal happened though.
  • The fact that the travails of this entire galaxy keeps coming back to this same family is just faintly ridiculous.
  • Rogue One – no Jedi, telling the story of ordinary people getting caught up in a struggle that’s larger than them, no miraculous last-minute saves, diverse cast of interesting characters – is great, probably my other favourite Star Wars thing. Also some really awesome visuals – the Star Destroyer over Jedha is all-time – and some fabulous characters, who I’d love to see more of. I mean you, Forrest Whittaker.
  • I’m sure the Han Solo movie had some good points, and superficially it does the diverse cast and no Jedi thing, ordinary people, etc etc, but I just can’t get past the ochre digital filter and Alden Ehrenreich’s bad impression, which is somehow worse than digital de-aging would have been.
  • I haven’t watched much of Clone Wars: there’s just too much of it, to be honest. I’ve enjoyed what I have watched though. The explorations of what it means to be a clone are interesting and worthwhile. I wish the films had even considered this.
  • Rebels I watched all of: it starts very much as a kids’ cartoon, but slowly morphs into something much deeper. And the ingredients are there: people living on a battered spaceship, Storm Troopers, droids, a struggle that’s bigger than they are. Yes there are Jedi, but they’re in hiding, so subtle and vulnerable.
  • The Mandalorian seemed a little light at first, like little more than Saturday morning adventure fluff TV, albeit really good and fun and fabulous-looking fluff. But it got richer and deeper quickly, and repaid repeat viewings massively – the more I watched it, the more I got from it. And I must’ve watched the first season three or four times, thanks to lockdown. An unscrewed gear-knob. A barely-perceptible movement of the head. A detail in the background.
  • As well as referring back to previous bits of the lore, each episode also added something new, some character or planet or nuance or perspective that made the galaxy seem richer, deeper, better. Bill Burr’s pain when confronted with the horror of what he witnessed while an Imperial soldier. Werner Herzog’s sincere belief in the Empire’s ability to improve everything it touches. The fact that Moff Gideon doesn’t really want to kill or enslave Baby Yoda, but actually does seem to just want to study his blood. Din Djarin’s realisation that the need to keep his helmet on is just mythology and not reality (and ergo a form of control over him). Cara Dune’s troubled relationship with her past. Greef Karga’s changing loyalties.
  • It was great to see a gang of four women kicking ass through an Imperial spaceship in the finale, blitzing Storm Troopers and officers left, right, and centre, while the masculine ‘hero’ went after his baby. I was furloughed for a while during lockdown as Em’s workload went up and mine went down (we work at the same place), and I frankly wasn’t dealing with Casper’s health issues and a global pandemic very well. I can identify with the need to protect my son ahead of nailing the baddies. Way more satisfying than the X-Wing arriving.
  • It did action, it did tension, it did drama, it did levity, it did sensitivity, and it did them all pretty well. It also made it clear that the characters could die and be badly hurt, which ups the emotional investment and ergo tension.
  • I’ve barely mentioned Baby Yoda. I even quite like his real name. The adorable, egg-eating little ragamuffin.
  • But Boba Fett, though. I’ve never read any Star Wars books or comics, so as far as I’m concerned he was dead, eaten by the big desert mouth thing, no escape. The eponymous Mandalorian is Din Djarin, he’s the one whose arc we’re following, who’s got this wonderful, transformational relationship with Baby Yoda; I don’t want another Mandalorian to come in and steal the glory. And to be fair he didn’t quite, but I wasn’t whooping for Slave 1 like I was rooting for the Razorcrest.
  • “If you’re born on Mandalore you believe one thing; if you’re born on Alderan you believe another. And guess what? Neither of them exist anymore.”
  • Oh the Razorcrest. It had a toilet! I bought it in Lego and spent hours making it more screen-accurate (I even built said toilet). X-Wings and Tie Fighters are iconic but they’re just fighter planes. The Millennium Falcon and the Razorcrest, and the Ghost from Rebels, are homes. Refuges. Safe places. As well as fighter planes. They have character and personality. They’ll always be my favourite type of spaceship.

Back to nursery

Today Casper did his first day at nursery since covid-19 tilted the world off its axis.

He’d only just settled again after the Christmas break when he had to stop going, when we started shielding. A lot has happened since then. Devon seems to be managing the disease better than the rest of the country. Both Casper’s condition and his medication (still twice a day, every day; still working) have been downgraded, so we no longer have to shield. I have worked from home, been furloughed, and am now partially furloughed and working again, three days a week. Nora managed to go back to school to do the last few weeks of her reception year. I had many detailed conversations with his medical team about community transmission rates and infection control and risk vs reward.

He sauntered down our driveway to the car this morning, telling me he was “going to nursery to play with my friends”. I was so proud. When we got there, of course, he cried, but apart from not eating lunch and being a bit sad after his nap he had pretty happy day apparently. I nearly cried on the drive there, as it occurred to me that – aside from the last couple of Tuesdays, when he’s been with grandparents – I’ve looked after him (and his sister) all day, every day, for the last six months.

And then, when Em told me at lunchtime that he’d be going to nursery again tomorrow – which I kind of knew on an intellectual level but clearly had not processed emotionally – I cried in the kitchen.

I’ve had prolonged, close care with Nora – two summers ago, when this all kicked off and he was in hospital all the time – but not with Casper, and I’ve cherished it. Obviously not every second – circumstances have not been easy – but for the most part being primary carer for my children has been wonderful. Especially Casper, for two reasons; two is a fun age, and also because, for so long, we had that paranoia that we wouldn’t have this kind of time with him. Em always used to say that she felt he was temporary, that he was only loaned to us when he was a baby. I must ask her if she still feels that way. Dark moments come every so often, but they’re fewer and further between for me now (especially since the waking nightmares about drug supply chains have dissipated after the first few months of covid-19). I feel like he’s going to be with us for a long time now.

The portrayal of childhood cancer in BBC hospital drama ‘Casualty’

Catchy undergraduate essay title, huh?

Em and I watch Casualty most Saturday nights. We have since we first moved in together. It’s something we both watched as kids, and it’s a little bit of routine, something to turn your brain off too (but not too much). We’re not religious about it – if we wanna do something else, we will, and in the age of streaming TV we often actually watch it on a Sunday or a Tuesday – but it’s an easy choice when faced with almost infinite options.

Watching the childhood cancer story unroll over the last few months has been… odd. Like, I imagine, many medical situations, it is being played for drama rather than realism. It’s not exactly triggering to us, but it is frustrating, because it doesn’t chime at all with our own experience of Casper’s cancer. Here’s just a few reasons why.

• Childhood cancer for most families means lots and lots of (expensive) travel. OK, so Faith and Lev both work at a large city hospital, but they’ve never had to go anywhere else. They even had a magic foreign super consultant fly over to them. They’ve never had to spend a night away in a house run by a cancer charity, for instance, or set up a ‘go bag’ that they leave by the front door in case they need to rush to hospital in the middle of the night with a temperature.
• Neither Lev nor Faith have taken any significant time off work to care for their ill child, and they regularly leave him on his own in a paediatric oncology ward for lengthy and uncomfortable chemotherapy sessions while they work. I have never – not once – seen a child left alone on a paediatric oncology ward for longer than it takes for a parent to go to the toilet. And in most cases two parents have been present most of the time, especially in the early, intense days.
• There’s a LOT of waiting involved in any cancer treatment. A LOT. Not for a course of treatment to begin necessarily, but just waiting… for the consultant to see another patient, for the nurse to arrive with the chemo gear, for a cup of tea, while treatment actually happens, while your child is in the operating theatre, etc etc etc. It’s oftentimes a very boring process. I know we’re dealing with a 50 minute weekly hospital drama, but they could have made a not towards this. Time passes quicker with a montage!
• The consultant was one of the least supportive and empathetic character I’ve ever seen on television. Ours have been nothing but caring and kind. Not once have we had a meeting with a consultant about our child’s health that took place across a desk like a scary job interview. I once cried my eyes out in a hospital school classroom while the consultant gave me a hug. Stony-faced paediatric oncologists don’t exist in my experience.
• Proton Beam Therapy – the magic bullet that seems like it might offer hope of a cure for Luka – is only actually available (as far as we can tell from google) at two hospitals in the UK: in London and Manchester. More travel. Yet Luka seems to be having it in Holby, during Lev and Faith’s normal working day. I understand the logistics and drama of TV programmes, but honestly the travelling and expense thereof (and all the sandwiches you buy) are some of the most emblematic (and problematic) things about childhood cancer. We were fortunate not to need to travel much, and I was still up and down the M5 to Bristol an awful, awful lot.
• Who’s looking after their other kids? What’s happened to them?
• Not a whiff of a social worker or a counsellor.
• Or their extended families.
• Or drug companies, research trials, medical journal articles, etc etc. Luka’s cancer, like Casper’s, is rare and weird.
• Or, and this might be the most egregious absence, the level of charitable support that is not just available and offered but symbiotic with and essential to the ‘standard’ NHS care. Exeter’s paediatric oncology ward would not function remotely like it does without the CLIC Sargent nurses and social worker. There is not enough money in the system (and yes this is political – fund the NHS not just adequately but SUMPTUOUSLY, sod HS2; make massive global corporations pay their fucking taxes) to provide proper childhood cancer treatment and support, so the system is propped up by charities. Don’t get me wrong, I am VERY grateful for those charities, but that they need to exist in the first place is a disgusting failing of our society and economy. Casualty’s been quite full-on about NHS funding in recent times, and this seems like a missed opportunity to hammer that message home again. As a parent of a child with cancer I wouldn’t be offended at childhood cancer being used as a crowbar for a political message – I’m offended at it NOT being. Cancer is political like EVERYTHING ELSE in life.

I appreciate that Casualty is a drama about the people and trauma encountered in a hospital emergency department and not a drama about childhood cancer. I also appreciate that our experience of childhood cancer is not universal – everyone will have different experiences, and perhaps for some the plight of Luka and Faith and Lev will absolutely ring true. But it really doesn’t for me.

Your Wilderness Revisited, by William Doyle

Apparently familiarity expands space but contracts time: when asked to draw maps of places they know, people inflate the scale while also underestimating the time it takes to travel between locations. What does this say about the suburbs? I’m not sure yet, but I feel like it’s reaching towards something mildly profound about the relationship between memory and place. It’s certainly a phenomena that I can identify with – revisiting lately the places that I knew earlier in my life I’m often struck by how small they seem; seeing clearly the boundary of fields that in my memory stretched forever. The idea that ‘it was all fields round here (when I was young)’ takes on an extra dimension when you acknowledge that this was only in your mind.

I have spent a substantial amount of my life (mainly childhood and teenage years but also chunks of my adulthood) walking and cycling around parochial hinterlands, seaside commuter towns, and city suburbs, exploring and observing the fascinating, complex mundanity. The cyclepaths that follow and traverse the river Exe and its canal; purpose-built routes through new developments on the edge of the city to shuttle you safely to Swedish homeware stores; bridleways along the backs of terraced garden walls; estates of 1930s semi-detacheds; 70s developments modelled on heritage villages, backed by woodland and farms. An entire estate you didn’t know existed half an hour ago, all those lives. Joining up the topography, watching the houses get newer and newer (and then older again) as you move further out from the centre. I grew up in an end-terrace on a cul-de-sac only two years older than me, playing football and listening to friends strum Beatles songs on acoustic guitars in twice-yearly mown fields rather than municipal parks. The markings on our pitches existed only in our imaginations.

Whenever people I vaguely knew talked about ‘finding themselves’ somewhere exotic and distant, I always felt like I’d done my own soul-searching and discovery in the lanes, cul-de-sacs, and coastal paths around Dawlish and Teignmouth, listening to expansive techno on headphones while standing on cliffs or climbing stiles or turning down residential streets I’d never turned down before, finding something beautiful in the ordinariness. I often think that if I could have my time again I’d like to have been an architect or a town planner, to help create the spaces that other people create the narratives of their lives within.

Now, at 41 years old, I’ve found myself feeling most comfortable living on the edge of the city I call home; country lanes are closer than cinemas and just as essential to my wellbeing, but I can see the city spread out before me from my livingroom window. Streets I would never cycle down for any purpose other than curiosity or exploration reveal architectural juxtapositions and quirks of town planning that make my heart expand: inexplicable Victorian glass addendums on the side of houses; expansive ironwork wisteria arches; hidden croquet lawns and bowling clubs; repurposed youth clubs decorated with mosaics of 80s kids playing table tennis; kayaks in carports; garden gates emblazoned with multi-coloured seahorse murals; water butts, solar panels, loft conversions, allotments; impossibly narrow padlocked gates leading to seemingly nowhere; paths by allotments that lead to babbling streams where children skim stones and paddle and swing on blue ropes tied to branches.

One of my favourite of Nora’s picture books is There’s a Tiger in the Garden by Lizzie Stewart, in which a little girl (also called Nora) is bored at her grandma’s house, and tasked with finding the eponymous tiger in the garden. “Don’t be silly, tigers live in the jungle,” says Nora, until, of course, she finds said tiger.

“Are you real?” Nora asks the tiger. “I don’t know; are you?” the tiger replies. It’s heavy existentialism for pre-schoolers. Some children’s books are fantastical, about amazing journeys and yearnings for excitement, but There’s a Tiger in the Garden celebrates the adventures that children can have in ordinary suburban gardens, amongst the shrubbery and ponds. Imaginations can turn ginger cats into tygers, suburban sprawl into existential labyrinths.

After two albums as East India Youth, William Doyle has reverted to his given name and explored in song exactly these types of places, the places that speak to me most profoundly. The edgelands. Avenues, riverbanks, cement gardens, houses with names as well as numbers. The places where we’re told nothing really happens. The places you need to leave to find excitement. The places you need to escape from. The places where creativity actually flourishes because there is time and space. Places where imaginations wander.
In 1994 Damon Albarn screamed in frustration that “all the houses look the same”; Your Wilderness Revisited suggests that, actually, if you look again, they really, really don’t.

The shadow of grief hangs over much of the record (Doyle’s father died when William was only 12 years old, so songs about the environs of his childhood are of course painted in those emotions as well as so many others), creating an elegiac tone that never feels morose or moribund. In fact the record is profoundly uplifting, harnessing that strange territory where sadness and joy interact, refracting and causing each other.

Musically Doyle expands upon these ideas with cues and styles that feel to me like they’ve always belonged in and expressed the suburban landscape – that classic lineage of eccentric British pop, personified by Bowie and Eno, psychedelic but not pastoral, touching jazz and ambient, classical and electronic, but most of all rock of the experimental sort, arguably the most suburban music of all (I’m not a fan of Pink Floyd at all, but while they formed in London both Gilmour and Waters are products of suburban upbringings). Let’s not forget that while Bowie was born in Brixton, he did most of his growing up in Bromley.

At no point is Doyle mocking or belittling of his subject; the emotion and passion for these places is sincere. The experiences that happen within these locations are absolutely as profound as those that happen anywhere else: love, grief, discovery, pain.

That grief is explicitly mentioned in opener “Millersdale”, named I believe after the area where Doyle lived before his father died. After an initial verse the song moves through a tension-building jazz passage, before turning a corner and opening up an elated vista of synthesiser and forward-moving percussion. “Nobody Else Will Tell You” is one of a pair of songs on the album (alongside the Wild-Beasts-ish “Continuum”) that are as close as we get to straightforward pop, blessed with a saxophone solo and a lyric about the transformational power of just going for a walk. “Zionshill”, by contrast, is hymn-like, but with enormous, reverberating clouds of feedback that remind me of Fennesz’s acoustic guitar deconstructions, again dealing explicitly with grief (“Once suffered a substantial loss / go into the arms of field and copse”).

The centrepiece of the album is the extraordinary “Design Guide”, which starts with Brian Eno reading phrases seemingly chosen from architectural briefing documents: “Distinctive and positive identity / An understandable layout… / Active street frontages… / A sense of community”. His monologue is close-mic’d but with heavy reverb, so it sounds at once like he’s giving a lecture in a huge auditorium and speaking directly and intimately into your consciousness. It’s like the emotional inverse of the deadened computer voice delivering “Fitter Happier”. In fact the whole of Your Wilderness Revisited is like a positivist mirror image of OK Computer, flipping the idea that urbanism and modernity dehumanises us, and demonstrating that suburbanism can actually humanise us.

At one point Doyle sings “there is nothing we want more than for / a sense of space among flowers and water.” The mythology of rock and pop often suggests these desires are boring, conservative, that we should abandon them and yearn for something ‘more’ (exactly what is seldom explicit). But actually there’s nothing wrong with them. It’s arguably less radical to want excitement and glamour for yourself than it is to want peace and space and calm for everyone. Hedonism is ultimately a capitalist yearning; the socialist dream isn’t that no one has anything nice, it’s that everyone has something nice.

The main refrain of “Design Guide” is perhaps the key to the entire album; “Labyrinthian into forever”. It speaks to me again of familiarity expanding space; the suburbs become all, geographically and psychologically. With a snare slightly behind the beat, the song has a languid, repetitive propulsion accentuated by the way the main lyric, like Eno’s spoken word, acts as a list gradually increasing in intensity. ‘Repeat-with-layers-and-drama’ is a common trick of modern alternative rock (Radiohead, Elbow, The National et al), and can sometimes betray lazy songwriting as much as it signifies experimental tendencies and emotional sophistication. As with “Millersdale”, it’s an approach subverted here by an unexpected musical twist, in this case an absolutely wondrous guitar solo (it’s not often I type that), that would be almost Frippian if it wasn’t ever so slightly reserved, its focus on emotional impact rather than virtuosic intensity. It’s a genuinely magical moment that I want to revisit constantly.

“Continuum” and “Full Catastrophe Living” give us more saxophone, the latter 99% instrumental, a child of side two of Low and “Heroes”, while the former expresses an urgent desire to move outwards, unclear as to whether this is away from or towards something. Perhaps a little of both.

“Blue Remembered” and “An Orchestral Depth” are an expansive pair, both sounding, to my untrained ear, like they owe a debt to the repetition of Steve Reich. The former – more percussive and urgent – is literally about cycling around the suburbs to clear your head; at one point Doyle lists house names – “Everglade, Albion, Lakewood, Arcadia” – that seem ridiculous, but which are simply yearning for a bucolic idyll. After all, who wants to be known by a number rather than a name?

The latter is yearning and cyclic, and contains one of my favourite lyrics on the record – “that’s when all the colour turned an orchestral depth / even magnolia flourished” – which expresses to me – through delivery as much as content – both the emotional heft of domesticity and the borderline psychedelic experiences that can happen in unremarkable circumstances. The latter part of this turns a similar trick to Richard Dawson on “The Vile Stuff”, where he injects occult mystery and drama into school trips and the wallpaper of adolescent bedrooms. It’s the same sense of psychedelic mysticism I experienced a few times as a teenager, half dozing to The Stone Roses or that first Verve album and feeling the music expand my liminal consciousness. You don’t need drugs to capture this inner landscape – though we sometimes chased it that way – you just need a pair of shoes and some headphones, or a bicycle and an open mind, or a quiet bedroom and a tired brain.

“An Orchestral Depth” ends with a monologue by the writer and film-maker Jonathan Meades, not someone I’m massively familiar with, which encapsulates the whole record as he talks about how “the fabric of places where I learned about the fabric of places has remained uncannily consistent”, and how he considers “suburban avenues and riverbanks, backstreets and woods to be the greatest free show on earth”.

The album closes beatifically with “Thousands of Hours of Birds”, Doyle harmonising with a hundred versions of himself and sounding like nothing so much as The Beach Boys in space looking at down at Wiltshire housing estates, acoustic guitars and spectral harmonies about how “love happens to us / if we let it happen first”. It has that sense of deserved, homecoming calm that I find in my favourite album dénouements, that feeling of not quite being the same person you were when you set off on your journey.

In many waysYour Wilderness Revisited has been a perfect lockdown record; covid-19 has made the entire country into an enormous suburb, encouraging us to walk, or jog, or cycle around endless quiet streets, to explore the paths and avenues less travelled despite their immediate proximity to our homes. We’ve watched the rainbows in people’s windows slowly fade in vibrancy as lockdown progressed, and started explorations at our front doors rather than by driving to somewhere supposedly adventurous or scenic before beginning.

I’ve never felt like I really belonged anywhere; at school, university, in the south west even (my family moved here from Yorkshire a couple of years before I was born, and my accent is unidentifiable as someone born in Exeter). ‘Normal’ people have always called me ‘weird’, but I’ve never felt weird enough to be a proper outcast or genuine weirdo, to be ‘cool’. (I know – especially now – that this poor-white-boy alienation seems guiltily navel-gazing). But as I’ve got older I’ve come to realise that actually the suburbs, the edgelands, are where the real outsiders reside, the ones with obscure, half-hidden pastimes, secret second careers as artists or makers, who run unusual altruistic charities out of garages. Since leaving supposedly trendy areas nearer the city centre I feel like I’ve got to know more people, and while I still don’t quite feel like I belong I get the sense that not many of us round here do, which makes us an accidental community; my favourite kind.

I’ve also sometimes felt like my life has lacked profundity because of an absence of big dramatic events, that I have led a very normal, boring existence, achieving nothing miraculous or of significant note. I have not had a spectacular career, nor made discoveries or creations that have changed anybody’s lives. Dealing with childhood cancer and a global pandemic over the last two years now makes me yearn for that lack of profundity, as I realise that the big dramatic events are actually unfurling around us all the time, often quietly and with fastidious boredom, behind curtains and in kitchens and bedrooms unseen by anyone not directly embroiled. It’s a cliché mostly unknown to our younger selves – or mine anyway – that life itself is the profound thing, whether it is spectacular or not.

That’s what this record does for me; it captures and expresses the profundity of mundanity, the beauty of normality (as experienced in one small corner of the western world at a particular point in history). I doubt it will resonate so strongly for everyone, and that’s fine. To me it is extraordinary.

Coping / corona

I wrote this for our work Teams platform to share with colleagues as we get to grips with what looks increasingly like national lockdown. Thought it was worth sharing here, too.

As you know, I have some experience of dealing with prolonged traumatic and unexpected situations, and I just started scribbling down some thoughts on coping, which might be useful.

Initially the novelty of it, the strangeness, is almost exciting – gathering resources, adrenaline flowing, all those post-apocalyptic films and books have prepped us for this, right?

But then comes suffocation, and denial – that sense that you might wake up from this shitty disaster movie you’re now living in, because this is not how life should be. Surely it’ll just stop, because someone got something wrong and we need to hit reset? It must stop. It’s not real.

But then the realisation- you’re not going to wake up from this, because this is life, get used to it, this is normal now, and you need to cope. You have to adapt. You can adapt. You are adapting.

When Casper was first ill in some ways it was easy – there was a medical protocol to follow, lots of support, the normal world fell away and we went into survival mode and just concentrated on getting him treated and looking after Nora.

That’s not the case with this. There isn’t a plan, there aren’t experts telling us exactly how to cope, and we’re trying to deal with work, family, home, emotional lives all at once, as well as the virus and that risk. And by ‘we’ I don’t mean just my family – I mean all of us, the entire country, the world, we’re all in the same boat. Or on the same ocean – our boats vary.

We can and we will emerge on the other side of this, and we will be scarred by what’s happened, but hopefully we’ll have learnt a lot of things about ourselves and each other, about our society and our culture, and some of the things that have had to change might actually improve the way we live in the future.

There will be days – and lots of them – when you struggle. And that is ok. It is ok to wobble, to despair, to cry, to be upset. Accept it, and be open about it. You’re not on your own in this, in feeling this way. Let people help, however they can. It makes it easier, trust me. People’s generosity will astound you, and if you let it your own capacity to cope will astound you too.

Caribou – Suddenly

Let’s try and write something about music again, shall we?

Dan Snaith might be the musician I’ve listened to most music by in the last 20 years. I picked up his debut album (Start Breaking My Heart) not long after meeting Emma in autumn 2001, and his albums since then have soundtracked my life – our life together – in uncanny ways. It helps that he’s about a year older than me, so makes records that reflect those life events and then releases them in time for me to have similar experiences (except he did a PhD rather than just thinking about it, made records rather than wrote about them, etc etc).

2003’s exuberant melange of psych, pop, jazz, and cascading drum samples (Up In Flames) was an epochal record of my time as a music journalist, defining my taste and the weird ‘scene’ or community I belonged to (loosely – geeky 20-something boys spread across the world, connected by the internet, adolescences defined by indie rock, now fascinated with pop, electronic, experimental music, downloading the entire history of music as fast as nascent broadband would let us and mashing it together in playlists, editorial policies, or our own records). I can still remember listening to it for the first time, in the spare bedroom of my parents’ house that I had set-up as a music room, squirming with delight every time a ridiculous sample took me by surprise. I hoovered up EPs, b-sides (“Tits & Ass: The Great Canadian Weekend”, “Air Doom”, give’r), and became a bona fide fanboy.

The Milk of Human Kindness almost passed me by at first in 2005, but then Em and I bought our first flat and moved in together in 2007, and it became our most-played record, used like a piece of statement furniture or an accent wall to stamp our style on the place and make it feel like a home. Cooking dinner? Stick Caribou on. Reading a book and sharing a bottle of wine? Stick Caribou on. Playing with the kitten? Stick Caribou on.

And a month before we got the keys he’d released Andorra, which had refined all the jittery tricks from Up In Flames, grafted them to some awesome songs, and perfected the whole electronic-psych-pop thing before pushing in new directions, with the final couple of tracks, towards that edge-of-collapse dance/electronic/jazz/kraut/whatever territory that I’ve spent the last dozen years exploring (James Holden, Floating Points, Four Tet, Daniel Avery, The Comet Is Coming, Battles, Blank Project by Neneh Cherry, Dan Deacon, Fuck Buttons, Moses Boyd, etc etc etc and on and on and on). 2007 was the final year I really thought of myself as a music journalist – the final year I wrote all the time – probably because it’s when Stylus folded, and it was also – for me – one of the best years for music in my lifetime. And Andorra was one of the best albums in one of the best years.

Fast forward through two years of career hell and minor health problems, and Swim came out in 2010 – the next best year of my life for music, and also when I sorted my career out, got married, started cycling again, began Devon Record Club, and felt like life was what it ought to be. Swim did exactly what I wanted it to, and felt like part of a tripartite of albums – alongside Four Tet and Owen Pallett – that I could call favourites in my 30s in the same way as In Sides or The Stone Roses had been when I was a teenager. Even if he was singing about relationships collapsing on “Odessa” and “Leave House”, the joy, surprise and craft on show was still delightful. We capped it off at the close of 2011 by seeing the Caribou Vibration Ensemble at All Tomorrow’s Parties in Minehead – James Holden and Kieran Hebden and Marshall Allen on stage, plus two drummers, modular synths, four-piece brass section, insanity and delirium.

Our Love in 2014 seemed like another weird synthesis with our real lives – a sonic refinement further into electronic dance territory, but crucially a reaction to having become a father, and a celebration of the way that changes you. Except that – maybe because of the very coincidence that 2014 was when Nora was born – it didn’t quite click with me emotionally or aesthetically like all the others had. “Can’t Do Without You” and “Silver” were amazing pieces of music, up there in my esteem and my heart with anything else he’s done, but nothing else really stuck or seeped under my skin. It was immaculate, but it lacked something crucial, some essence that had connected me to everything previous. Maybe it had stepped away from the edge of collapse?

And so now (and I know I’m discounting the Daphni records – I have them, I enjoy them, but they aren’t the main deal for me) we have Suddenly, a record reflecting adulthood, fatherhood, and the unexpected turns and traumas that can come along. It embraces juxtaposition and surprise, it surfs close to the edge of collapse, it feels more melancholy than anything prior but just as joyous – albeit tempered, perhaps – sometimes almost subdued and sometimes almost insane. And it comes 18 months or so after our horrific, traumatic, unexpected collision with childhood cancer, after Casper being diagnosed with LCH, and it hits me square in the feels. Because it’s a complicated record that covers diverse sonic and emotional territory, very often within the same song, and that’s how life has been since cancer entered our lives. Siblings apologising, parents lullabying, emotions and noise and changes blindsiding you, coming home to uncertainty but it still being home, moments of normal life when you dance and forget what’s happened, eulogies for things that haven’t quite passed yet, that horrific sense of the time that’s gone, that’s been tainted, that’s left ripples of pain through the future even amidst the good feelings.

I’m only three days into my relationship with this record, but I already know how rewarding it can be. I don’t know what’s happened in Dan Snaith’s life over the last few years, and I hope it’s nothing like what we’ve been through, but I’m so glad he’s caught it in music for me again.