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’...