Friday, 20 May 2011

Sexy bikini in the garden

Next week the UK officially goes gardening mad, as the TV cameras, celebrities and royalty all flock to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.  The last time I went to an RHS Flower show, I saw something that had me giggling for days afterwards.  I know we’re not supposed to laugh at other people’s misfortune, but this was irresistible.
It was the first day of the show, which is when all the judging is done, so only the press, celebrities and royalty were allowed in.  I was strolling around the show, when one garden in particular caught my eye; not because of its horticultural excellence but because there was a half naked girl sitting there.  She was wearing only a tiny bikini and had obviously been ‘hired’ to attract attention to ‘the garden’. Judging by the gathering crowd, the stunt was working.  As it turned out, she got more attention than she bargained for.
I stood there smiling to myself at the shouts of “over here darlin’, give us a smile” from the dogs dressed as photographers, and I noticed the wooden bench the girl was sitting on.  It had obviously been hand-made and the legs had been carved into something resembling sea shells.  While this bench looked beautiful, it didn’t look altogether stable.
I looked around to see if anyone else had noticed this fizzing little scene and an icy chill ran down my spine.  In stark contrast to all the excitement in front of me there were a group of sombre looking ‘suits’ approaching; the RHS judges.
What followed was both pure comedy and pathos.  The judges came nearer, the cameras clicked; the girl looked as sexy as she could, but then made the fatal error of repositioning herself on the bench.  You know those moments when you feel yourself beginning to lose balance; you think you’ve got it under control but then a split second later and you’re past the point of no return. You know you’re going down. Yeah, that. 
Nothing wipes away a false smile quicker than a dose of fear.  As the girl shifted her weight the bench first wobbled and then rolled on its shell shaped legs.  In a flash she tumbled clumsily over the back of the bench, arms and legs flailing wildly in panic.  A quick scream and the bench had dumped her unceremoniously into the neatly coiffed plants.  All that remained of the previously enchanting scene was a pair of legs sticking up in the air. Dignity vanished.  The photographers witnessed the whole thing and so did the RHS judges, she was all over the papers by that evening.
I hate it when emotions fight against each other, it causes such inner turmoil. On the one hand I wanted to throw my head back and laugh out loud and on the other I felt sorry for the girl. Everything had seemed to be going so well, right up to the point where one of the beautifully designed objects was tested, and it failed.
I’m afraid my empathy was overpowered by stronger, darker forces and I had to walk away, head down; whole body shaking with laughter. I hadn’t realised flower shows could be so much fun.    

Thursday, 12 May 2011

School sports day:even the teachers were shocked by this stunt

One of the biggest events of the school year for me was sports day.  The whole school would turn out to cheer, the teachers set up a loud speaker system and there was a great buzz for the day.  For a 16 year old boy it was also a great opportunity to impress the girls.  I was always a fast runner and so every year ran the 100m sprint; arguably the sexiest event of the day.  When I say I was a fast runner, I mean I was before the other boys grew taller than me. By the time my last ever sports day came along I was the eighth fastest in the school.  Not bad...just a shame I had to race against the 7 other faster boys.
Coming last in the sexiest race of the day wasn’t an option.  So I devised a plan; and it was a beauty. I may well come last in the race but I would be top of the ‘cool list’ when it came to impressing the girls.   
Like other schools, each year was split into 4 ‘houses’ and each house had to select 2 runners for the race.  Myself, and my good friend were selected to represent our house.  We both knew, no matter how fast we ran, we would cross the line in 7th and 8th place.  If my plan was to work, I needed a co-conspirator so I shared my plan with him and he readily agreed to it.
The weather on the day was perfect, the girls looked great in their little gym skirts and they were starting to gather at the edge of the track en masse. The announcement over the loud speaker arrived and the 8 fastest runners in the school assembled.  We drew lots to find out which lane we would run in; we got lane 1 and lane 8.  Damn, this interfered with the plan; we had to be in lanes next to each other for maximum effect.  Luckily we knew the boy in lane 2 was easily corrupted (I think he later went into politics) so we bribed him to swap with us.  We were set.
We all stood at the starting line.  We needed to show we were serious athletes, so we started some dramatic stretching exercises, jumping up and down on the spot and some of that leg flicking, you see professional athletes do before a race. We both knew we would probably be in trouble after this stunt but it would be better than going red in the face with exertion, only to cross the line last.  If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime, was our motto.
This extra fear was intoxicating; only two people in the entire crowd knew what was about to happen, and that was a lot of fun.  “On your marks, get set...BANG” As anticipated the other six runners quickly surged ahead, we on the other hand adopted a new, innovative running style. 
Our heads went right back, eyes up to the sky, arms stretched out in an exaggerated fashion – just like that bloke in Chariots of Fire....but all in slow motion and with the Van Gellis soundtrack playing inside our heads. It took us a while to reach the finishing line.  Our approach scored high on appearance, but low on ground speed. We did the facial expressions and everything; we even stretched our chests out and flung our arms back as we crossed the finishing line.  We looked ridiculous. The crowds loved it.
No-one had ever attempted such an audacious stunt. To mock the Holy Grail that was the seniors 100m race, was sacrilege but no-one could stop us – even the teachers were shocked.
After the race we felt like The Beatles arriving at an airport, the crowds flocked, even the ‘cool’ kids came over to worship at our altar.  We had come last in the running race but first in the race to be cool and rebellious. 
Needless to say a short while later we heard the announcement over the tannoy that we were to report to the headmaster’s office; although I’m sure I detected a wry smile on his face while telling us off.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

"Err...there's a problem with your passport sir"

A few weeks ago my brother was listening to Ken Bruce on radio 2 when he heard him ask the listeners to email the show with any stories they had about passports.  He promptly emailed a story about something I had done many years ago. Ken obviously found the story funny because he read it out on his show, to great guffaws.
When I was a student I spent a few weeks of my summer holiday one year staying with my friend Mike in Kent.  One morning we received a post card from two of our other friends who were travelling around Europe in a VW van.  Not a camper van mind you, this was simply an old VW van.
It was the early nineties, so pre-mobile phones. This meant a post card was the only way they could communicate with us to let us know how they were.  From the sound of the post card they were having a great time, whilst we were stuck in boring old England.  At the end of the card it said ‘tomorrow we’re catching a ferry from Italy, so by the time you get this card we’ll be in Corfu’.
Feeling spontaneous I suggested that we fly out to Corfu immediately and surprise them, how cool would that be? We didn’t know where they were staying of course because they were in a van and hence ‘of no fixed abode’ we also couldn't let them know we were arriving but we thought ‘how hard can it be to find them, Corfu is surely only the size of Worthing with a few donkeys wandering around isn’t it?’  We immediately booked ourselves on the next available flight, which was set to leave in three days time.
After booking the flights, I realised there was a flaw in our plan.  I didn’t have my passport with me; it was at home, so I phoned my brother and asked him to send it to me in the post. Luckily it arrived the very next day. I put it to one side never thinking to open it and have a look.   
To say we travelled light was something of an understatement.  We had no hotel booked, we had no campsite booked, we didn’t have a map nor did we have a tent but hey, who dares wins, right?  In fact we had little more than hand luggage. 
On the morning of the flight we got up ridiculously early and arrived at the check in desk at Gatwick by 6.30am.  We went over to the passport control and I was first in line to show my passport.  However I wasn’t prepared for the reaction of the passport control woman.  She took my passport, opened it at the photo page and immediately burst out laughing.  This wasn’t just a snigger you understand, it was a proper throw your head back belly laugh.  What the hell was she laughing at? I know passport photos don’t exactly make you look your best but I didn’t think mine was that bad.
Wiping away her streaming tears the passport woman said “in all my years working here, I’ve never seen anything like that before, that’s brilliant” and handed me back my passport. I immediately looked to see what was so funny. 
Before sending my passport to me my brother had cut out a magazine photo of Sammy Davis Junior and stuck it over my photo. It fitted perfectly; his face and beaming smile, on top of my shoulders.  
Incredibly I travelled to Corfu and back to England using this passport photo, every time the passport controller roared with laughter.  Not one of them checked to see if it was actually me underneath the Sammy Davis Junior photo.       

PS Even more amazing was that we bumped into our friends the next day walking along the road - the look on their faces was priceless!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

The undiscovered diary of Jesus Christ

And now for something completely different...not quite a parent blog this one but funny.  If you liked Life of Brian and have read the Da Vinci Code, I think you'll like this

We’re told that during his time on earth Jesus was just an ordinary man. If this is true he would have done the same sort of things you or I do, he might even have kept a diary. Recently a diary, purporting to be that of Jesus was found in an undisclosed desert location.  This is an extract from that diary.  It gives an insight into Jesus the man, showing a side to him you won’t see in the bible.  This extract is from the days leading up to what we now know as Easter.

Maunday Thursday
I thought we’d get the weekend going early and have a slap up meal, just me and the lads.  As usual the missus, Mary, was on at me about coming along too – she knows girlfriends are not allowed at these all boys get-togethers but you know what she’s like, nag, nag, nag... Holy Grail... that girl can go on.  
Eventually she comes up with the hair-brained scheme of dressing up as a man and sneaking in.  I told her she’ll never get away with it – long hair, no beard but hey what can you do. So after a lot of nagging I finally agreed to it. Hopefully the others will be too pissed to notice.  But between you and me diary, I think it’ll be more trouble than it’s worth, one day someone is going to rumble us, I just hope some genius  doesn’t get a picture of us all.
Boy did we enjoy ourselves; anyone would think it was our last supper.  After a few hours some of the lads started flagging so we all went into the garden to get some fresh air.  I thought this might perk them up a bit, but no.  They were all dozing off.  It’s not as if we’re old or anything, not sure about the others but I’m only in my early 30’s.  Bloody lightweights. 
Anyway, I’m out there trying to gee them up a bit with some stories, magic tricks, bit of juggling - but they weren’t having any of it; even that fucking cockerel crowing didn’t disturb them.  Actually that’s not strictly fair, Peter was still awake – he’s a true mate, in fact you couldn’t shut him up. He was having a great time winding this guy up – he kept telling him he didn’t know me.  He must have said it three times at least – he’s a card that one, he’ll go far.
 The next bit is a bit fuzzy but from what I can remember, some soldiers showed up asking for me.  I didn’t think we were being that noisy.  What I want to know is how they knew what I looked like, so much for mates, bloody Judas’s, the lot of them. 
Woke up this morning and thought; “Good..... Friday!”  As it turned out, there was nothing good about it at all.  I had a terrible day.  Everyone was really rather nasty, especially that Pontius Pilot, I even said to him “don’t you know who my father is.”  To cut a long story short; got arrested. Put on trial – what a joke of a judiciary.  It then went from bad to worse.  By the end of the day it was all getting beyond a joke and to top it all, it started bloody raining.  Definitely not a day I want to be reminded of in future.
Feel pretty rough today.  Not going to write much, think I’ll just lay low.  Just wanted to say...those guys!  Such jokers, not only have they left me in some sort of cave wearing only a sheet, but the bastards have rolled a huge rock in front of the door.  How do they think I’m going to get out, I’m not a miracle worker.  On a more alarming note I seem to have sweated so much in the night that an image of my face and body has rubbed off onto the sheet I’m wearing.  I’m not usually that much of a sweater.  Must make sure I get rid of that, don’t want it getting into the wrong hands...
Sunday and the rock blocking the door... luckily I found a fire exit (thank god for those health and safety blokes, I’m not usually one for making predictions but that’s an industry I can see will do well in the future.  If I hadn’t seen that little green sign on the wall I’d have been in a bit of a pickle). Anyway saw a few folks this morning – they all looked pretty miserable until I showed up, I said to them, “cheer up, you look as if you’ve just seen a ghost”

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

He's going straight to hell for that one...

I know we’re not supposed to laugh at other people’s misfortune, but this was the funniest thing I have ever heard a 5 year old boy say.  It was also the most irreverent and by far, the most audacious.
As a boy, I went to a catholic primary school in a middle class area in Kent.  The school was attached in some way to the local church and was run by a lovely nun.  Although the catchment area was predominantly middle class, there were small pockets within the catchment area that were, how shall we put it, a bit rough around the edges. 
Being a ‘church’ school we often had the local priest show up to say mass.  This meant the whole school getting together in the assembly hall, along with teachers and any parents that wanted to attend. 
On this particular occasion there was a good turnout of parents and the hall was full to bursting point.  The priest that showed up was known to be very much a ‘straight’ kind of man, no jokes; not many smiles.  As usual there was always a bit of a build up; the hustle and bustle of ferrying 200 children into a school hall, a few words from the head-teacher, then us children singing hymns with the accompaniment of the decrepit old piano teacher.
Then in comes the priest in all his ceremonial wear.  I’ve never really understood why priests, vicars, bishops etc. wear those long flowing robes, more importantly nor did one little boy, let’s call him Derek.  He perhaps hadn’t attended too many church services in his short life, as his grasp of the proper etiquette was somewhat lacking. 
Anyway, in walks the priest. He says a few words of welcome and then pauses for a moment of contemplation.  The entire gathering is silent.  That’s when 5 year old Derek, from one of the slightly rougher parts of town, chose his moment to ask his genuine question.  His comic timing was a thing of pure beauty.  If memory serves me correctly, I believe I’m quoting him verbatim...Derek, sitting cross-legged on the front row, shouts out: “who’s the fucking cunt in the dress?”

A few gasps, some muffled sniggers and Derek was escorted from the scene...

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Sold to the man with the mullet haircut!

When I moved into my current house, my wife and I were thrilled to finally have some more space.  We could start doing proper grown-up things like inviting people over for dinner. As soon as the boxes were unpacked we arranged a long boozy weekend lunch with some friends.  Then we realised; we had the space but not enough chairs. 
Having just gone through the expense of moving, we certainly didn’t have any money left to go out buying furniture and I’ve never really liked Ikea. Our house is more ‘shabby chic’ than that – well...we’ve got the shabby part; still working on the chic bit. We were in a bit of pickle until my brother suggested I try the local auctions.
I’d always associated auctions with rich people buying paintings for the price of a 3 bed semi in the Midlands.  How wrong I was.  As you drive deeper into the Surrey countryside, near Ripley, there's a huge ‘Ewbank Clarke Gammon Wellers Auctions’ sign on the side of a building.  Although I’d seen this sign many times, I’d never actually been in.  The idea of going to an auction was a bit daunting – I didn’t want to look like a novice but I had a deadline, so I went along.
There’s something fascinating about watching people walk into an auction room.  As soon as they cross the threshold, in their minds, they become antique experts.  The hands are tucked behind the back and the chin struts out ever so slightly. They pick up an object and inspect it closely through an imaginary pair of spectacles perched on the end of their nose. It all felt a bit earnest.
This presented me with a problem. I’m rather fond of a bit of mischief, especially in formal situations like these. I’ve been like it all my life; sitting in church as a boy was particularly testing.  All these de facto antiques experts milling around, was like a red rag to a bull.  I was in dangerous territory.
Anyway, there were a few chairs with guide prices of £30-£40, so I went to the sale day to bid for them. The atmosphere here is very different – this is the part where money changes hands at speed. As the auctioneer works his way through the lots, and the one you want approaches, your heart starts racing and you start to squirm around in your seat.
Thankfully, when ‘my chairs’ came up there wasn’t much interest and I managed to steal them away for the princely sum of £5 each.  I’ve never had as much fun buying furniture, as I did at this auction. 
When the hammer came down and the deal was done, I was so pleased with my bargain buys that my resolve cracked and my sense of mischief got the better of me. I held up my registration number card and when the auctioneer asked me my name, with a huge grin on my face, I simply couldn’t resist answering ‘Lovejoy’...    

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Quick, the rozzers...act normal

I like to think I’m a reasonably accomplished driver, I'm a bloke after all.  I was therefore dismayed to receive an official looking letter through the post recently, from Surrey Police. The general flavour of which was that I had ‘contravened the 1861 Speed Act’ or whatever it was, and unless I paid a fine and polished the chief inspector’s shoes for the next month, I’d be sent to a penal colony in the middle of the Indian Ocean. 
They don’t hold back with those letters do they – they like to stick it to you.  My crime was that I’d been flashed by a speed camera doing 35mph in a 30mph zone. From the tone of the letter however, anyone would have thought I’d made off with the crown jewels and was in for nothing short of a public hanging.  After I recovered from the mild stroke this shock gave me, I noticed at the bottom of the letter they were offering me a ‘get out of jail free card’.
‘HOWEVER’ said, if you agree to attend one of our speed awareness courses which incidentally will cost you slightly more than the fine, we’ll let you off the three points on your licence. Ok. For an extra £10, I get to keep my driving licence as clean as a whistle.  Sounds good; I’m in.
I imagined the course would consist of us ‘crims’ being shown videos of nasty traffic accidents and that I’d probably be the only one there, old enough to grow a proper beard.  Mercifully it was nothing like that.
On arriving, I was immediately surprised to find the other people attending the course were mostly, how can I put it...septuagenarians.  There were so many silver tops in there I thought I’d arrived at an old fashioned dairy.  Most of them looked like sweet little old ladies and harmless dignified gents.  Not quite the hardened criminal underworld I was expecting. Like me, most of them had been flashed doing 35mph in a 30mph zone.
The course was run by ex-police officers and it was excellent.  I learnt so much I can’t praise it highly enough.  I was never a fast driver but the pace of modern life sometimes influences your driving.  Inevitably you’re late for something and the speed creeps up. We all do it. Seeing as the majority of traffic accidents occur in 30mph zones, probably by otherwise law abiding citizens, I can see why they gave me the option of attending the course.  It has transformed the way I drive.
There were no ghoulish videos for us to watch, just sound common sense advice about how to break the bad driving habits we all pick up. If you ever receive ‘the letter’ and there’s an option to attend the course, do it.  I think every-one should as soon as they pass their test, not just those that have been caught speeding.  If we were better educated we might not get into bad habits in the first place.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Life before children; better or worse?

A few days ago, I was looking through the files on my old computer when I came across a speech I wrote for the get together we organised, to celebrate the birth of our first child. It was quite a moving speech that reflected the feelings of a brand new parent.  My baby son was only three months old and I was very much still enjoying the delirium that follows the birth of your first child.  I just thought I’d share it with the group...
In it I talked about my life before my children were born. How, sometimes I felt like I was walking along a very long road but facing backwards. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t actually turn round to face the right way.  I could only just about see ahead of me but it was foggy and unclear.  I could see the events that had happened in my past, some of them in full sunshine, some with black clouds overhead.
Then one day I was having my haircut and while chatting to the girl, the subject of marriage and children came up.  She asked me “do you think you’ll ever get married and have children?”  Being a typical bloke I said “yeah maybe one day”.  I had been living with my girlfriend quite happily for many years but in my head the whole marriage and children thing had no definite timeline. She then said something quite profound.  “You never know, it could be the making of you”.  For her it was probably just a throwaway line but it resonated with me and made me question it.  She could be right.
Over the next couple of days I kept asking myself the question and every time I did, it felt as if my head started to slowly face the right way. Something just clicked, I could now see ahead of me but it was still just darkness.
Then on May 13th my baby boy was born.  It was like the sun had come out and immediately I could see a path clearly lit up ahead of me; no more darkness. So in answer to the question at the top of this piece, I’d say yes thankfully for me life is better now I have children.  I feel there is a purpose.  I don’t mean life is easier, it isn’t.  In fact at times it feels much more difficult but it’s more fulfilling.
Although I’m still a rookie at this parenting lark, I’ve learned that it’s about coping with highs and lows. One could argue of course that’s no different from life before children. You’d be right, except when you have children, the highs are much higher and the lows much lower.  Life before children was about coasting along; you can afford the luxury of being selfish.  With children you have to give of your substance not just your surplus.  Once you accept it and embrace it however – it’s wonderful. 
So I’d like to publicly thank, in front of the group, my beautiful wife and my beautiful children for bringing the sunlight in to my life. hug; and I’ll sit down.  Now it’s your turn, feel free to leave comments about your experience before and after children. Or if you have a blog, maybe write a post about the same subject – let me know about it and I’ll visit your blog and leave a comment.
PS. Don’t worry there won’t be a collection on the way out, I’m not religious, actually I’m an atheist...thank God!

Friday, 4 March 2011

The bigger the lie, the more believable it is...

Is it wrong that children tell lies?  I did.  They weren’t malicious, more like embellishments to make life more interesting.  When I was 5 years old I had, what can only be described as a creative imagination.  This made my ‘show and tell’ stories rather different from other children’s.
My classmates would stand up and tell stories of visits to the zoo or some such.  However there are only so many times you can hear about otters before you get a bit bored. I thought it would be more exciting to jazz the stories up a bit. Of course the world of your average 5 year old isn’t that exciting so this meant delving into the fascinating realms of falsehood.
One morning, when the teacher asked if anyone had any stories to share with the class, I immediately shot my hand high in the air. I was bursting to share with the group the exciting events that had happened to me over the weekend. 
As was the custom in the 1970s (health and safety executives look away now, this is likely to give you heart palpitations) I proudly stood up on my chair and announced to the class that over the weekend I had swum across The English Channel.
For any 5 year old, this was a hard sell.  It was made even more unbelievable by the fact that I couldn’t swim... and everybody knew it.  In fact I didn’t even like swimming.  My Dad would often take us swimming on Saturday mornings and I used to dread it.  I wasn’t very tall for my age and the shallow end in swimming pools then was 3ft.  I was about 3ft 4”, which meant I never really gained the necessary confidence to simply whoosh off and start swimming.
Nevertheless, I was so convinced that I’d swum the channel that I stuck to my story unreservedly.  What I found incredible was that once the story session was over, some of the other kids actually came over and asked what it was like. Was it cold, did I have to put all that white greasy stuff on me – “oh no” I said, “I wore a wetsuit”, another whopper. I didn’t have a wetsuit.  Of course I didn’t, I was only 3ft 4”.
It was all in the delivery. I don’t know where my self confidence came from but I learnt something very useful that day.  I realised that if you sound convincing enough, some people will believe you. If I ever find out how to teach that sort of self-confidence to my children, I’ll teach them.  You need a bit of chutzpah these days.  However I do feel that I’ve somewhat wasted my talents; I clearly should have been a politician.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

I can resist everything...except temptation

About a year ago I was very nearly banned from my local library.  This is a new one for me, an all time low.  I’ve been banned from pubs before; I’ve even been banned from a school rugby field, but never from a library.  On reflection the librarian probably did have a point.  However, there were no signs stating that a grown man couldn’t ride a child’s trike inside the library.

Let me explain.  When I was growing up my father was very strict.  Partly due to the fact that there were so many of us; I have four brothers, and partly due to the fact that he was just that type of bloke.  He wasn’t someone who messed about; he was a serious man. Quite how he managed to produce me, the complete opposite, is a mystery.  You see, I enjoy mischief.  In fact, it’s my raison d’etre.

As a result of my Dickensian upbringing, I promised myself that if I ever had children I would fool about with them.  So, when one day, my then two year old son asked me if he could ride his trike to the library, it was music to my ears.  There was an opportunity here for some fun and my inner devil simply couldn’t resist the temptation.

Initially it was just a straightforward father and son scenario – me pushing him along the pavement towards the library.  However, it is the very straightforwardness of it all that put me into the danger zone.  I’m not good at mediocrity; I always look to spice things up a bit.  I can’t help it.  So as we went along the pavement, I suggested that I sat on the trike and he push me.  I can still picture the sheer delight on his little face. He immediately burst out laughing and continued to laugh, as I dramatically attempted to sit on his trike.  Like me, he could obviously appreciate the visual humour and the physical absurdity of the scene.   

The trike in question was one of those really simple old fashioned wooden affairs and I could just about manage to sit on it. With my knees literally up by my chin and his little hands on my back pushing with all his might, we slowly crawled along the pavement until we reached the library – both of us roaring with laughter the whole way. At this point I should have got off the trike, but to be honest I couldn’t; I was stuck.  Once you get yourself into such a tight crunch, it’s not that easy to get up again, so I went into the library and rode around the aisles.

It wasn't long before 'the beard and sandals' came over and gave me the 'look'. Although she was quite polite about it! I needed a quick exit but I had gone down a one way aisle.  What followed was a test of patience for the librarian and a test of my poker face - she won that one.  I couldn't get up off the trike so I had to carry out a three point turn.  Except the turning circle on a trike isn't very generous so the manoeuvre turned into an Austin Powers moment with me going backwards and forwards over and over again until I finally managed to get the trike pointing in the right direction.  Throughout this whole episode I'm afraid I was giggling uncontrollably, which didn't go down well with the librarian.  My son however, loved it.
A few weeks later I was telling one of my brothers the story and he said to me: “can you ever imagine Dad doing this with us, when we were kids?” No, absolutely not.  And that’s the point – as a child I would have loved it if he had.  My son was having a wonderful time and so was I. I didn’t mind letting my guard down. It’s moments like these that create a bond between two people, and these are the very foundations of a great relationship. That’s something I’m very much looking forward to with my children.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

You're so like your mummy

You know when you ladies say to a man: “You’re such a typical bloke”... well here’s one right back at’chya.  I’ve learned something this week.  The last five days have confirmed to me what I’ve always suspected; women do not learn how to be both lovely and infuriating at the same time, it’s a ‘gift’ they are born with.  I know this because for the last five days I have spent as much time as humanly possible, looking after my 18 month old daughter while she recovers from her first really horrible cold; and she is a typical girl.
Here are some of the words I could use to describe the last five days; frustrating, exasperating, sweet, infuriating, lovely, draining, and frustrating – did I say that one already.
I have not been able to put her down without her crying.  That’s not the girlie thing, that’s just the: ‘I’m feeling poorly and need comforting thing’, so maybe I can’t use that one. I just needed to say it, to get it off my chest.  No, the girlie thing is the decision making. 
She can’t talk properly yet, so there’s a lot of pointing and saying “Uh”.  I’m getting pretty good at interpreting these cave man forms of communication, so if she wants a drink or something to eat, I’m on it.  The trouble arises when she points to something to entertain herself – pencils, crayons etc.  She looks up at me and issues her royal “Uh” and points to the shelf with the crayons on. I dutifully carry her over praying that she’ll take some crayons and play nicely on the floor for the next two days.  I’ve always been too optimistic; it’s a failing of mine. 
When we get to the shelf she takes the crayons and 3 seconds later decides she doesn’t want them anymore.  I look at her and groan: “You’re so like your mummy.” Instead she wants the Pritt stick.  This is contraband; she knows she can’t have it.  However this was on day three of the five day incarceration and by this time I was beginning to crack – there’s only so much torture a man without SAS training can take.  I check the lid is on tightly and agree to her having it, under my close supervision. 
Three seconds later she changes her mind again and instead points to even more black listed contraband – our collection of small plastic objects.  Experience has taught me, these objects emit a frequency audible only to babies. This translates into: “as soon as you pick me up, put me in your mouth”.
I had to draw the line somewhere.  This didn’t go down well.  This is the bit where I learned beyond all reasonable doubt, she was a typical girl.  She knew if she cranked up the emotional pressure, increased the volume and showed no signs of stopping she’d get what she wanted.  She was right. 
I’m afraid I gave in.  Then something surprising happened, as soon as she got her hands on the prized black listed contraband she stopped crying, her big blue eyes lit up with excitement, and she gave me a big kiss. I looked at her and smiled: “You’re so like your Mummy!”

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

It's a little bit funny....

Bless me Father for I have sinned. I’m afraid it’s been years since my last confession. My sin is against my own kind - the red blooded male.  I had to do the housework the other day...and I actually enjoyed it.    
As a cost cutting exercise I’ve reluctantly decided to P45 our cleaning lady.  Friday was to be my first day on the job and like most first days, I was a bit anxious.  I don’t really enjoy cleaning, least of all pushing the vacuum cleaner round.  In fact I’m rather ashamed to admit, that I would be embarrassed if anyone I knew walked by my house and saw me pushing the vacuum around.  It’s just not something a man likes to be seen doing.    
Before I got started I decided to bolster my spirit with some good old fashioned male bastions; loud music and a roaring log fire.  At first I did a bit of tidying, kids toys etc. but as time went on I could put it off no longer, the big moment arrived; it was time me and Mr Dyson got to know each other a bit better. 
Like all those jobs you put off for ages, once you crack the seal, it isn’t that bad.  The Dyson has a clear plastic tube to show you when it needs emptying.  This is perfect for blokes.  If a bloke is doing a job, he likes to know he’s doing it well (little tip for you girls!). 
Seeing all the stuff being sucked up into the cleaner was very satisfying and it spurred me on.  Soon enough I started to really put my back into it; in fact I was working up a bit of a sweat.  Half an hour later and I was stripped to the waist.  By this time the Ipod had shuffled onto ‘The Best of Elton John’ and the noise of the vacuum cleaner meant I had to crank the volume right up, just to hear it.
When you play really loud music, you feel compelled to sing along with it....don’t you? So let’s just picture the scene; I’m belting out Elton John songs, with my shirt off and pushing a vacuum cleaner round my house; all I needed was a Red Indian head-dress and a handle bar moustache and I’d have made it on to a Village People video.    
The reality was that I was having a great time. I got to play some music really loud, sing along with it and use a piece of kit that was really efficient. What’s not to like.  Cleaning the house was just a by-product. Next week I’m planning on tackling the ironing with maybe a bit of Barry Manilow...

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

One of life's magical moments

A few days ago I experienced one of life’s truly magical moments.  It was so moving that I’ll treasure it for the rest of my life. Just recently I’ve been feeling uncharacteristically down.  The nation’s gloom is getting to me, everywhere you look there’s bad news.  Since deciding to slow my business down, to get to know my children, I have good days and bad days. Mostly I worry about money, especially at 4 in the morning. 
Strangely I have the death of the composer John Barry to thank for helping to break my downward spiral of gloom.  I heard on the radio that he’d died and as usual the report briefly went through a list of the famous film scores he’d written.  James Bond theme, Dances with Wolves and Out of Africa.  Why is it, that when a composer or musician dies you immediately want to listen to their music? As a tribute the radio played the theme tune to the film Out of Africa.
It was a Monday morning and I was at home looking after my two children.  It’s a beautiful piece of music, very calming and because my daughter had been fractious that particular morning, I decided to pick her up and have a dance with her.  My daughter is at the age where she can run around and get up to mischief but she can’t talk.  Instead she communicates with expressions and body language.  During that dance she communicated such love and affection for me it literally brought a tear to my eye. It was a few precious moments of calm; her little face was so beautiful she clearly loved dancing with her daddy. The worries of the world vanished.   It didn’t cost me anything and made me realise what is truly important in life.
One day when she’s older I’ll tell her about that dance and how it helped me put things in perspective.   If you’ve never tried dancing around your living room with your children I’d recommend it, it’s good for the soul.    

Sunday, 30 January 2011

"because you're old daddy.."

My son already has a way with words.  He’s only three years old. While I was recently recovering from the worst case of man flu, ever experienced by anyone on the entire planet, I told him off about some trifling matter.  His little shoulders dropped immediately.  After a pause, he said: “Daddy you’re not my best friend anymore.”   “Oh, why not?” I replied.  “Because you’re old.”    
He must have been referring to my recent birthday.  The one I’ve been putting off for forty years.  As the date drew nearer I had to accept it was my turn. Anyone that says you don’t feel any different... is lying.  I needed cheering up and warming up. Winter birthdays are no fun. 
When I first started looking after my children it was the tail end of the summer. The weather was lovely and the days were long.  We'd sit on the green messing about for hours.  Those days passed so quickly I thought, looking after children is a doddle.  Then winter arrived and spoilt everything.   For winter childcare to be successful, you need a plan; actually that's wrong, you need several plans. 
Luckily I had become a member of the National Trust and they had been great, until one Monday morning a few months ago.  I showed up with two excited little bundles of coats and hats in the back of the car, only to see the sign, “closed for winter”. Resort to plan B; Claremont Gardens in Esher, they're always open.  Nope.  Even that is closed on a Monday in winter.  My last resort was the library – guess what, closed on a Monday.  It’s moments like this that test ones verbal restraint.  I think my expletive thoughts might well have escaped without me realising.  Note to self; make sure you have a thick piece of leather in the glove-box of the car to bite down on in future.
I needed to find somewhere I could take the children that gets them, and me, out of the house.  Somewhere they could get some fresh air, without contracting double pneumonia from the Baltic temperatures.  Thank God for these three letters: RHS.  Luckily I’d joined the RHS at the same time as the National Trust (did I mention I’d turned 40 recently!) 
The RHS garden at Wisley ticked all the boxes.  They had a nice cafe that catered for my morning caffeine addiction, and lovely open spaces, but more importantly there was a huge heated greenhouse. The day we went was particularly cold, so as soon as we arrived, I made sure we were ready and out the car in record time (20minutes!) and I set off like one of those speed walkers.  Yes, the wiggle and everything.  I didn’t care; it was freezing.  Opening that greenhouse door and being hit by the tropical temperature was bliss.  They had even laid on some exotic butterflies especially for us.  RHS Wisley is now firmly on my ‘to do’ list.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

The day that changed my life

My time management was getting out of hand.  I was too consumed with making the next deal to notice my priorities were off balance. When the economic meltdown made everyone panic and the phone stopped ringing I did two things:  started losing sleep and started taking stock of my life.  Did I want to continue along my chosen route of highs and lows; high disposable income but low amounts of time with my family? Or did I want to get to know my children as they grew up.  I decided the income could wait, my children couldn’t. It was time to swap disposable income for disposable nappies.
As my wife was now the only one out working, one of the first things I had to get used to, was cooking for her and the children.  That meant dealing with the supermarkets.  I hate going to the supermarket. It’s right up there with paper cuts and sitting on a crowded commuter train. Whose bright idea was it to put uncontrollable trolleys in the hands of people not looking where they’re going?
Nevertheless I was determined to succeed, so one evening with the help of my trusted friends Mr Gin and his brother Mr Tonic, I hit the cookery books.  Quite by chance that evening River Cottage was on TV. Even if you’re eating your dinner at the time, that show can still make you feel hungry. This particular evening Hugh was urging the viewers to support their local butcher.  I didn’t even know if there was a butcher near me.  A quick internet search and I discovered there was one in a village called Claygate, just a couple of miles away.
What a gem of a village.  It had everything I needed; butcher, baker, fishmonger, grocer, coffee shop - and I could park right outside the shops for free.  I can’t tell you how excited I was that first visit. I learnt more that morning, chatting with the shopkeepers, than I’ve ever learnt in twenty years of going to the supermarket.
I bought everything I needed for the recipes that had inspired me the night before and couldn’t wait to get home to surprise my wife with a lovely homemade dinner. I even bought a set of chef’s whites so I'd look the part when she came home. I started with something simple, a bolognese sauce.  In the past we’d always bought ready-made sauces but this time I made it all from scratch, it was by far the best Bolognese I’ve ever had - even the children loved it.
Despite the nerve tingling terror of making such a radical change when I’m the slightly grumpy side of 39, am I pleased I’ve done it...?  You bet. Oh and we've got a new set of rules in our kitchen now, if I ask my wife a question while I'm cooking, she has to answer ‘yes chef’...