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’...it 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.  Ok...group 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.