Monday, May 25, 2009

Book ‘em Danno!

Ever since Katy and Mate (four and two respectively) started sharing a room over a year ago, myself and the good Wife (as opposed to the bad Wife who pops her head up come nagging time), have developed a routine in the mornings that enables us to grab an extra hours dozing time. Mate normally wakes first at about 6am, so I quickly grab him and take him downstairs, chuck him in the sofa bed, and jump in myself for the extra snoozing time. Katy will then wake up at 7am, and snuggle in with her Mum, watch some TV, until boredom and hunger hits at about 7.30am, then we are all reunited.

This works fine unless they both wake up at the same time, say 6.45am, then nothing seems to work, and all hell breaks loose. So we have started an experiment where, when this happens, I just go into them, turn the light on, throw him a few building bricks and her, a book, and just let them get on with it. We don't get the same amount of nap time, but it can be quite fun just listening to them.

Mate has been able to say everyone's name in the house except Katy, but he sussed that out last week, and the words are now all spewing out like verbal diarrhoea. This morning Katy started teaching him new words to say, and helping him with the pronunciation. It all started fairly easily Mum, Dad, Dawn, Katy, Dog (followed by lots of barking from him, and impatience to move on from her), head, tongue (?), clap (followed by lots of clapping, more Katy impatience, woof obviously taught her nothing), hippopotamus! This last one came as a bit of a surprise, especially as Katy can't even pronounce it herself.

I blame my Wife for this, for whilst she is the chief correct-speller-and-all-things-grammar, of the house, she cannot pronounce the long words for toffee. Hearing her attempt to read Katy any book involving dinosaurs is a comic lesson in mispronunciation. John Clesse may be head of the "Ministry of silly walks", but my darling Wife is Vice-chairman of the "Tongue-Tangling Society". I actually fell off the bed laughing the last time she tried to pronounce "Cretaceous", and don't even get me started on "Styracosaurus", too funny.

She has now, quite unreasonably in my opinion, refused to read the night-time story, thus depriving both me, and the kids, of quality mickey-taking time. Now book reading is on my list of chores, along with cooking, gardening, washing, and anything else that requires breaking a sweat. I used to be very self conscious about reading out loud, everything I read came out in a John Major type dull monotone, but armed with the thought that 'how could I be any worse that their Mum', I have started to excel.

I can do the voices, the animal noises, the growls, the roars, the quiet bits, the LOUD BITS, I sometimes even sing. I am a legend in my own Imagination. My very best attribute is the ability to read the rhyming books really fast. This enables me to get downstairs, and into a chair and a beer, a lot quicker than normal. Katy does not even feel short-changed, as she loves it just as much when I muck the words up, as when I ace it.

Another change now that books are in my domain, are the mocking-mummy books. These are normal (but unfamiliar to Katy) books where I can change the plotline to regal her with one of the Wife's drunken exploits. The names are changed to protect the innocent (and guilty), and it can be quite a challenge to fit, say 'drunkenly asking a policeman for a Tango' into a child's story.

This whole process of writing these blogs, has given me a healthy respect for children's authors. I used to be quite dismissive, not of the genre, but of certain types of stories, and would be quite dismissive "Katy, that one is rubbish, put it back". I mean, how hard can it be to write a story for children?

Well, quite hard it seems. I thought it would be quite cool if I could write a story for Mate and Katy, maybe get them to colour in some pictures for it, and maybe even get it published. Such lofty ideas, I had it all planned out. I sat down and started writing the outline for the plot, with the intention to then go back, flesh it out, and add some dialogue. After a few hours pondering, and typing, deleting, and pondering, with some more typing thrown in for good measure, I had my plotline nailed.

I love the word crestfallen, so descriptive, and so apt in this case. To a muted drum roll I give you my story.

There are seven beautiful princesses living alone in the woods, with only a talking bunny and a clumsy deer for company. A Prince comes to rescue them, but he is so ugly, they all kissed frogs to escape, and turned into dinosaurs. All except one, who run off with a wolf with beautiful red fur, and lived happily ever after, raising abandoned baby monkeys. The Prince was so distraught, he locked himself in a tall tower, with only weaving midget for company. The End.

What was I thinking, published, you must be joking. Even if it was, I am sure Disney's copyright lawyers would have a field day with it, such a blatant mishmash and rip off if ever I saw one. I genuinely did not realise as I was working, that I was just rehashing old films. Blame Disney for getting so far into our psyche, I don't know?

I have decided to leave children's books to the experts, experts like Debi Gliori, whose book "No Matter What", I read a while back. It is a fairly simple tale of small fox and his Dad. Small keeps asking his Dad if he would love him if he was grumpy, a bear, a bug, etc. His Dad answers that he will always love him, no matter what. "But what about when you're dead?" Small then asks. The Dad then shows Small the stars in the sky, and explains, "Look at the stars – how they shine and glow, but some of those stars died a long time ago. Still they shine in the evening skies. Love, like starlight, never dies."

I think Shakespeare was the greatest wordsmith and poet, but I think even he would have been proud of that description. It certainly brought tears to my eyes when I read it, and still does to be honest.

Writing kid's books easy? I somehow doubt it, but getting better recognition for your work from this Dad, just got a lot easier.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Imagination more important than Knowledge?

The imagination can be a scary thing you know, it only takes a couple of random thoughts to mix together, and brew up overnight, and you can end up with some of the craziest dreams. I think one of the hardest parts of being a parent, is the bad dreams you have about your kids. I have had some proper doozys, and they very rarely end well, but I had one the other night that was not par for the course.

I dreamt it was a Sunday morning, and we had popped around my Mum and Dad’s house in Barking. Some socially irresponsible preacher had knocked on the door, wanting to spread the word of the Lord. Always a pet hate of mine, I mean, if I had wanted to be preached to on a Sunday, I would have just gone to church, and let a professional do it. I can understand the market for mid-week door to door preaching, but on a Sunday, know your market mate.

Anyway Reverend Disruption, knocked on the door, my Mum answered, Katy bolted out of the door, and started running like her pants were on fire. The bottle neck created by the preacher trying to give us a leaflet, wasted precious seconds, but was dissipated by a Karate chop delivered by my Mum to his shoulders and down he went (way to go Mum, I didn’t know you had it in you). I jumped over him and started running after her. I looked up the road just in time to see her turn a corner, damn she was fast. I got to the corner, had a choice of 4 directions, and could see no sign of her. If we lived in less of a concrete jungle, I could have used all my Cub Scout knowledge and followed the trail, but I guess there is only so much you can change in a dream.

I had a brainwave, I ran back to the house and turned my Mums laptop on (told you she was cool didn’t I!) I opened up my twitter account and got typing, all the while remembering the 140 character rule. I typed the following:

Child called Katy missing from Barking area. Please help with search and RT this. Photo at 07873280109 if seen

I know most non-users of twitter do not understand it, and think it is just a bunch of sad old people, telling a load of people they don’t know, inane facts like “making breakfast”, or “putting pants on and getting dressed”, or even as spotted yesterday “#noundiessunday “(you know who you are, shameless). But in my heart of hearts, I know it is more than that. It can be used as a power for good, and not a power to spam, or so I hoped as I hit the tweet button.

So whilst the rest of my family was out searching, there was I manning the Laptop and praying for a miracle. For 15 minutes (that felt like 15 hours), nothing happened, then all of a sudden I started seeing Katy’s name and photo all over the web. Twitter has a ‘Trending Topics’ list running down the side of it. It is the top 10 things people are talking about on twitter, and is updated in real time. For example, today’s list includes Eurovision, Star Trek, and #3turnoffwords. All of a sudden ‘Katy missing’ started trending to the top. There were now more people talking about my daughter than Angels and Demons! Take that Dan Brown, make a conspiracy about that if you can (I hope he doesn’t read this, as I am a huge fan, honest!)

I wandered outside in a mild daze. Walking to the top of the road, everything sounded slightly too noisy for a Sunday morning. I did not realise you could actually hear urgency, but that is what my ears were picking up, all around me was the sounds of footsteps and serious conversations, and yet there was no one in sight. I reached the spot where I had originally halted my search, and looked up for the first time. There was a sea of humanity, all walking with a sense of purpose, as far as the eye could see (which was not far due to the tears of fear and hope that clouded my vision). All of them looking for my daughter, all summoned by the Great God of Twitter.

There is a 3 floored block of flats nearby, and I climbed the stairs to the top, and went onto its flat roof. It reminded me of standing on the bridge by the old Wembley Way, after a cup final (We lost 3-2 to Luton???) and looking back at the crowds exiting the stadium. A similar scene faced me now, and the people all had the same grim expression as back then as well. Except this time my heart was full of hope, instead of hate at a missed penalty. They were looking under cars, over fences, and even in wheelie-bins. People were knocking on doors, getting people to check their gardens, and then those people would also join the search.

This went on for about an hour, every minute feeling like a day, I just did not know what to do. I kept walking around in a circle like a headless chicken, no use to anyone. Suddenly the noise and the atmosphere changed. A wave of smiles and back slaps came rippling toward me. It made no sense, what was going on. The smiles turned to laughter, and I just looked uncomprehendingly at the wall of people in front of me. The story took another biblical turn, when the people parted, as if before the Red Sea, with me as Moses. There emerging from the ever widening gap, was my soot covered daughter, in the arms of the oldest, most toothless, and in my eyes, most beautiful man in the world.

The old man simply tipped me a wink, placed Katy in my arms and said “Yours I believe.” My fellow twitteratti would describe these as #3hotwords, but to me they meant just one thing. Safe.
I knew this feeling of happiness and relief would, at some stage, turn to anger at her running away in the first place, but for this moment I would just wallow in the scent of her, and think about punishments later.

I woke up a bit more dazed and confused than usual, be that because of the dream, or be that the fact it was 7am and Mate had allowed me an extra hour in bed. Who knows, but I do know that Katy got a lot more hugs that day. Oh, and I put a sign up on my door saying “No Jehovah’s Witnesses”, better safe than sorry.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Just a Snip

I saw a picture today on the blog of another Dad I follow, that made me laugh; wince; smile ruefully and then cross my legs, all in the space of seconds. It is a rare thing that can encapsulate all of these emotions at one time, but this did.

It is a real life merit badge for those of us that have 'taken one for the team', and ensured that we can no longer over-populate this ever shrinking planet of ours. Don’t get me wrong, population density of the planet was not the reason for this drastic decision. Over-population of our house, however, was a major factor. Our house is a 3 bed semi-detached Victorian cottage, quaint, previously tranquil, and a bit kooky. I loved this place from the first time we saw it 7, 8 or 9 years ago.

Incidentally have you noticed that the older you get, the less sure about dates you are. I must have foreseen this coming, as I had our wedding date engraved on the inside of my wedding ring. Anytime I am unsure, I just slip it off, take a sneaky peek, and another night on the couch is avoided. Anyway I digress (another thing that seems to be happening more and more), the house always seemed the right size until No3, Mate, turned up.

At the moment Dawn has her own room at the end of the hall. Initially this was to spare her all the tears and tantrums from No2 baby Katy, but since she turned 15 and has discovered boys, it is to spare us from all her tears and tantrums. Katy and Mate share the bedroom next to ours, which has resulted in a fair set of adventures in itself, and a subject worthy of its own blog. Our room is just one thin wall away, so no more TV in bed, well actually no more anything in bed. Any declaration of our love happens downstairs, lest we wake the little buggers up.

Don’t be too impressed by our al dente approach to matrimonials, the loudest thing is normally me falling over trying to get my trousers off before removing my trainers. Foreplay is taking my socks off first, or whispering sweet nothings like “they must be asleep by now”, or “Ok, whose turn is it?” Another plus point of being downstairs is that you are only 4 steps from the fridge for the post-match beer (and a glass of wine for the laydee), but on the downside we have laminate floors, so it can be a bit tough on the old knees.

So the decision was made, we didn’t want to move, so I was packed off to be neutered. Scant regard was given to my feelings on this matter, once her mind is made up there is never any turning back (unless she has forgotten her mobile, then we always have to turn back). So callous and cavalier was her treatment of me, that I was actually grateful that she has not made an appointment with a Vet for the procedure. I could just imagine me in a room of tight lipped, steadfast women holding onto leash’s, with their husbands on the other end, lolling on the floor with hound-dog expressions.

So off I went to the pre-procedure appointment, where they sit you down and try to talk you out of it and explain how serious it is. I mean honestly, you are going to grab hold of my Crown Jewels, and then attack them with either a sharp knife or some laser-burny-thingy, and you feel the need to tell me it’s serious - no shit Sherlock. I had come prepared with a video clip on my phone of the kids hitting each other with plastic golf clubs from a BBQ brawl to convince him. When he still looked dubious, I explained that my Wife was from Irish-Catholic stock, and that sealed the deal.

I had to return in 2 weeks, with someone to drive me home, and 2 pairs of clean and tight fitted boxer shorts. That was the one thing that stood out, 2 pairs of pants, why? Was there going to be so much blood that the second pair would be needed to soak it all up, lest the next victim (I mean patient) would be scared off? I just could not figure it out.

V-day arrived, 6th January to be precise, and by God it was cold that winter. Now I started to panic. As all men know the cold is never kind to us, and here I was about to get my tackle out for an audience, and it was bloody freezing. I didn't know what to do for the best . Do I walk into the room all cold and diminished, or do I involve myself in a bit of self-manipulation just before hand (boom boom) just to give a good showing? What if I went too far though, would it be sending the wrong signals to the Doctor? I must have been insane to be worrying about such an inconsequential thing, but it must have been self-denial’s way of keeping me off the real issue of becoming a semi-eunuch. I solved the dilemma by making sure the heating in the car was on full blast all the way there. That just meant that I looked really red cheeked and embarrassed by the time I got there, but that seemed to be the lesser of two evils.

I’m not sure I can bring myself to describe the operation (which you are awake for) in any detail. I just don’t think it would be fair to all those who are going to follow in my pantsteps, but needless to say it is not something I would ever like to repeat. There was a lot of fumbling and tugging, but without the usual outcome, in fact the exact opposite.

The Wife drove me home, and to her credit she did well to hide the “No balls now, we’ll just see who’s boss” look. I was told I had to stay in bed for two days, wearing the two pairs of pants, and not drive or lift anything. I managed to substitute upstairs for downstairs (no X-Box or DVD upstairs), and turn two days into four. The only plus point, was being able to shout for anything I needed. Every time I asked for a beer, my wife would be all “are you sure that is wise?” to which I would reply “I became a gelding so you could stay in this house, the least I deserve is a beer!”

It was a tender couple of weeks to say the least, with me walking like John Wayne behind a smirking Wife every time we went to Tesco’s. Another thing they had warned me about was that there might be some blood left in the tubes. A piece of information I had stored in the furthest reaches of my mind, until when following the Doctors orders, and emptying said tubes, everything had turned a day-glo pink! A memory, I am sure, that will haunt me till my grave.

I recovered eventually, and I don’t care what any Doctor tells you, it does feel a bit different now, not as full up I guess. So I guess the moral of this story is, buy a big house from the off, as you never know what life is going to throw at you, or snip off you!

I must thank Russ, who posted the badge on the blog site he runs with his mate Jasper, “Dad’s who mock the world”. You can find it at well worth a read. You can also see more badges at Credit where credits due as my Dad always says.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Five go mad in Devon

It was my birthday recently, not one of the big numbers like 40, 50, or 60. Not even one of the ones that has a comment attached to it like 29 “It’s all downhill from here (male) your biological clock is ticking (female)”, or 39, “Ohh 40 next year, nearly time for a crisis.” I am a plain boring old 38. See you can’t even think of a single comment, funny or otherwise to make, it is a truly dull age to be.

My darling Wife, perhaps sensing the impending mood of prevalent doom, decided to surprise me with a weekend away to my spiritual Zanadu in Devon. I had spent the previous night with a couple of old friends having a near-middle-aged-indoors-because-I-have-to-babysit-drink-up, and was feeling slightly the worse for wear when I received this news. I showed as much enthusiasm as my, now boringly aged, body would let me, cancelled my plans of getting drunk in the garden, and started to make a mental check list of required luggage. Favourite pants in case I got lucky, favourite book in case I didn’t.

My booze addled brain then started to wonder who was having the kids during this weekend getaway. In my head various suspects were proposed and ignored. My brother-too busy, my sister-never changed a nappy, Oma-moving on swiftly, my parents-already in Devon, brother in law-too single, sister in law-too organised. I just could not figure out who was having the kids.

All of a sudden a thought, so terrifying it caused a sumo-like retraction in my nether regions, occurred to me. There was only one couple I knew, that would be stupid enough to look after the kids for the weekend, and in the next sentence my Wife confirmed it. “The children are so looking forward to going to the beach.”

So off we went one big happy family on a 200 mile, 5 hour car trip to insanity, via the A303. In fairness to the kids, they were not that bad on the outbound trip, not that good, but not that bad. I had read somewhere that the word “posh” was an acronym derived from an old term they used on the cruise liners, “Port Outbound, Starboard Home”. On that basis, there was “Plentifully Angry Infant Noise” from the “Getting In The Sea”, and our vehicle was “Flippin Useless Car Knows Every Diversion”.

We eventually reached our destination at 10.45pm. The kids had stayed awake for the whole journey, only to fall asleep at 10.15pm, just in time for us to wake them up to take them to the hotel room. You could tell the Receptionist was impressed, by the way her perma-pencilled eyebrow arched. I don’t know what her problem was, she was hardly likely to be staying in the room below us. The people who walked in behind us got that particular room. They were the ones with every right to be worried. Although on the basis that he seemed to be fifty with a few quid, and she was 25, orange and was wearing a belt for a skirt, it looked like they might be keeping us up.

Upon entering our “Family Room”, I got my next birthday surprise. I had imagined a double bed with room for a cot at the bottom, and an adjoining room with a couple of single beds for the other two. What I was actually faced with was one room with a double bed, and a pull out sofa bed. Joy of joys, any idea of any naughtiness or relaxation, was now completely out of the window.

We unpacked and settled everyone into their beds. Luckily for me, my Wife had had the foresight to bring a travel-bottle of Jack Daniels for me, to go with the bottle of Coke purchased from the service station. I drank it “alcoholic private eye style”, straight from a coffee cup. All that was missing was some Pepto Bismol and a gun, and I could have been Phillip Marlowe. So there we were, my own little “Partridge Family”, except as we were in a Travelodge it was more like an “Alan Partridge Family”.

It was quite unsettling to realise how alike me and the kids are, judging by the amount of giggles going on each time one of us broke wind, anyway. The only one not amused was the wife, in fact she was starting to remind me of the boss cowboy in Blazing Saddles, “I think you’ve had enough beans, boys!”, except he didn’t have a moustache and an attitude.

The rest of the night went a lot more smoothly than expected, and the usual morning chaos that is feeding and cleaning, also went well. “Strength in Adversity” will now become our new family motto, which is good because our previous motto “Why does it always happen to us”, lacks a certain punch.

We met up with my parents, Aunt Joan, Cousin Jon and wife, and Cousin Neil and family. 11am was too early to start drinking, so we headed on down to the beach. Budleigh Salterton has a beautiful beach, made up entirely of smooth round stones. Sand always sounds like more fun, but as sand ends up everywhere, and I have an aversion to wearing sandpaper pants, this type of beach suits me just fine. Plus it gave me and my cousins another chance to play our infamous “Throw like a girl” game. Rules are fairly simple, pick up a stone in your wrong hand, take a run-up, throw it as far as you can, fall on the floor crying with laughter as you are mocked for how stupid you look. If you don’t believe me try it, it is singularly the funniest thing you can do for free.

It is amazing how much fun doing nothing is. The rest of the weekend was full of walking, drinking, eating, oh, and buying a load of herb plants from the village hall. Village life rocks, in the can you turn the radio down a bit, type of way. Before we knew it, it was time for the journey home.

Mate actually fell asleep an hour into the journey, which is unheard of. Katy chose that moment to start getting loud and whingey, and would only be quietened down by a sweet. The obvious noise reconvened as soon as said sweet was finished, and after various telling’s off, the cunning little madam offered this piece of advice, “I can’t talk when I am eating sweeties, so more sweeties would make me quiet”. How can you argue with logic like that? Sweets were duly dished out every 10 minutes or so, until I spied Mate starting to wake up. “Daddy, can I have another quiet sweetie please?” “That’s OK darling, your brother is awake now, so the quiet sweets can go away.” Advantage Daddy, huh, take that little girl, I win you lose. Except now the sugar rush had kicked in, so we were forced to listen to the Ting Ting CD (her favourite), to channel all her excess noise.

The only other thing of note to occur that weekend happened near Stonehenge. There is a huge natural pig farm almost opposite the site, so whilst I was trying to direct everyone’s gaze to, in my humble opinion, one of the most amazing monuments England has to offer, Katy had spotted something far more interesting. “Daddy what is the birdie doing?” I looked over to where she was pointing, only to see something that had never been covered by any David Attenborough documentary I had ever watched. Standing on the back of one of the pigs, was a huge crow, pecking God knows what, out of the pigs butt. All I was certain of though, was that it was not going to find the cure for Swine flu there, and that there was no way was Mrs Crow going to give him a welcome home kiss tonight.

I have always felt that Easter holidays are the mock exams to the summer holidays GCSE’s. That therefore, must make Bank holiday trips the last minute revision on how not to relax.