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I've had a blog for a very long time. Over 15 years. Recently I've been thinking how it'd be nice to bring back some of the better old posts, once a week. I'm starting with a series that I did back in 2009, before Blood on the Motorway was but a twinkle in my eye. I'd asked for seven blog topics from people on Twitter and got some of my best blog material as a result. Here's the fifth, a suggestion from [Last Year's Girl], who's also remained one of my dearest internet friends. Originally posted on August 30th, 2009, my daughter was two at the time. I'd say this still holds true.
From the vaults: 7 Days, Day Five.
A letter to my daughter
As I write this, your Mum has gone to work, and you are sat in the lounge in your ball pit watching Cbeebies. You just came in to give me a cuddle and I told you that I was writing you a letter, and you told me (in your roundabout way) that you didn’t want to grow up, so wouldn’t be able to read it. I hate to break it to you, but you are going to have to get older, so one day you might stumble across this.
Since I set myself this test, this was the one topic that has me genuinely daunted. There are so many things I could say to you, so much advice I could give you, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the last few days, and there is one piece of advice that I can give you that hopefully can help you later in life. It’s something that it has taken me most of my adult life to work out, and I offer it to you in the hope that it doesn’t take you as long.
Don’t ever regret your decisions or your actions, for they have all brought you to this point now, and for good or ill, they will all inform the path that your life takes. You won't ever know what that path is until it’s upon you, so enjoy the path you are on, and let it take you where it will.
This may seem like strange advice for a parent to give their child, given the emphasis we all put on making the ‘right’ decisions. Maybe by the time you are reading this we are hassling you about your GCSE subjects, and how those choices affect your life, but the truth is that it is the smallest decisions that shape your life, just as much as the ones that seem to be big decisions at the time. Every decision you ever make is a big one, and the truth is that nobody ever gets those decisions right all of the time. I’ll give you one example, a small incident that has shaped everything that followed.
When I was seven, I was sat at school, alone on the swings, listening to a tape of Kylie Minogue. Even back then I listened to a lot of music, mostly tatty 80’s pop, but when I was sat on those swings a boy called Ben came up to me and asked me what I was listening to. I told him, and he told me that I should listen to a band called Guns N Roses. Now at this point, I could have dismissed him or forgotten the conversation, but I didn’t. Next time I was home I begged your Granddad for some money to go and buy the tape. And that was the tape that got me into music, something that has stayed with me for all of my life, and which has informed so many of the decisions that followed.
Now, I know that no matter what, I would have ended up becoming a music obsessive. It’s in my blood, and I hope that you will share the same passion for music that both your Mum and I have. But I often wonder what would have happened if Ben had told me to listen to The Smiths instead. Would my musical journey have been altered by a different point of entry? Would I have had the same friends at college if I had gotten into indie music rather than rock music? What if he had gotten me into the other new scene at the time, dance music?
When I went to Sunderland to go to university (again an utterly random decision based largely on the fact that I wanted to move as far away as possible from your Grandparents, who I wasn’t really getting on that well with at the time, in part because I kept blaring Korn and Marilyn Manson at top volume from my stereo) my entire social circle was based around the music I listened to. I started a DJ night, and my love of music deepened even further. I formed a band, and because of that, and the friends I had, I stayed in the North East for four years after I finished University. Would I have done that if I hadn’t had those passions, those friends? No.
When I was still living in the North East I met someone, and when they left Sunderland I went with them to York. When I was there it was the music that I loved led me to the friends I met here, a lot of whom you now call Auntie and Uncle because to me they are family. But without that first Guns n Roses tape, I wouldn’t have met them, wouldn’t have been in York.
And this brings me to my final point. Under no illusions do I want you to think that I’ve always been happy, or that I’ve always made the right decisions. There have been many times that I could have made a decision that would have improved my career, or taken me to new places, but I can’t ever change those decisions, and I will never regret them. How can I ever regret anything? Even the slightest difference in my life could have taken me on a different path. If I had never come to York, if I had taken a different job when I was here, or if I had skipped one particular works party then I would never have met your Mum. And if I had never met your mum, then you wouldn’t be reading this at some unseen point in the future, and I wouldn’t be writing this while you run around in your pyjamas, placing brightly blocks into a shape sorter. And that is a world I would never want to imagine.
I can’t ever regret any of the choices I made because, without them, you wouldn’t be here, and no matter what happens for the rest of my life, I know I will always have made those choices right because of that. And so whenever you sit there and regret some boy you didn’t talk to, or exam that didn’t go well, or a job interview that you missed, don’t worry too much because that path you are on is still there. And besides, no matter what road you take, what choices you make, none of them will ever mean that we love you any less, or that we won’t be there to pick you up when you fall down.
Another one of those weekends where I seem to exit it even less rested than I started it. On Sunday the girls were at an all day festival of pop in Sunderland, my stomping ground of old, so I drove them up in the morning and then hung around seeing old friends and taking Jacob to the beach. After waiting at a McDonalds that transformed temporarily into one of Dante’s circles of hell for an hour the girls re-emerged from the gig and we headed home. I downed a caffeine drink on the way back to make sure I didn’t start drifting on the empty and terrifyingly dark A19, so when we finally got back sometime after midnight last night I ended up lying on my bed wide eyed and awake for quite a while. Rather expectedly I’m functioning about as well as a coalition government, except with added caffeine shakes.
Tiredness aside though, it was a really fantastic day. I’ve rarely been back to Sunderland since I abandoned it for the leafier surroundings of York over a decade ago. Thankfully the friends I left behind tend to travel to York on a fairly regular basis for drinking, which is understandable given the alternative. It was the first time I’d gone back since starting a family, and it allowed me to reflect on just how far I’ve come in my life since I left. Standing on the beach with my little man tentatively dipping his toes into the water I could look out across the sea and reflect on how I was undeniably a proper grown up now. It felt rather good.
In the afternoon we went back to the crumbling old terraced house that was home to me and five others for over half a decade. It was home to decadence, poverty, good times and bad. Ostensibly I went back to take photos of the place because it’s where Blood on the Motorway opens, and I wanted a visual refresher of the place for the opening paragraphs. But standing on the crumbling stone steps and looking out on a street that has barely changed in the intervening years I felt a slightly overwhelming wave of nostalgia, along with a rather unexpected sense of pride.
I realised that I’ve come a long way over the years, transforming into a fully-fledged human being from the bumbling buffoon I used to be. The guy who lived in that house and would wake up without gas and electricity more often than not; who used to set his alarm for 1.45 pm so that he could wake up to watch Neighbours; who used to return from a weekly shop with seven frozen pizzas and a box of cereal. I’ve always had a sense that I’ve been underachieving somehow, stumbling through life from one day to the next, a sense traditionally borne out by the overwhelming evidence in its favour. In the past I was a bit of a fucking shambles really, but stood on those stone steps it suddenly occurred to me that I’m not really, not any more.
I look at my life now, at my wonderful family, my two wonderful kids, and I can’t quite believe I made it to this point. Quite aside from the fact that I seem to have stumbled into an actual bona fide career entirely by accident, I’ve also ended up with a brilliant family. My little girl spent the day yesterday with her mum and was good as gold the whole time, when quite frankly she could have been an absolute nightmare and there’d have been little anyone could have done about it. She’s such a lovely girl; incredibly sweet natured, caring and considerate, and has a brilliant sense of right and wrong. My little man too is an absolute sweetie, endlessly charming everyone who comes into contact with him, and every bit as good natured as his big sister. I can only assume that I’ve had something to do with how well they’re turning out, and after a life of trying to achieve something, anything, it occurs to me that I’ve managed to get there without even realising it.
As one of my friends said after watching me chase Jacob as he went on some kamikaze run up a hill in the park; ‘I can’t quite get my head around this whole Paul the adult’ thing. Neither can I, but I’m glad that’s who I’ve become.