Friday, October 19, 2012

The Absence

A few weeks ago we kept Kaede off school because she had been up all night coughing and looked generally unwell.  We still had to take Nate to school, so as she walked past Kaede’s classroom The Mrs spoke to her teacher, told her the situation and that was that.  Or so we thought.

A week later we received a letter from her school, Our Lady of Perpetual Motion, which said the following:

“We do not appear to have received a letter concerning Kaede’s absence on the Wed 3/10/12.  WE would be grateful if you could complete the tear-off slip below, stating the reason for absence, and return it to school as soon as possible.  If no absence slip is received by the school then, unfortunately, the absence will be registered as unauthorised.”

Well they wanted a letter and a letter they got:
Further to your letter dated 10 October 2012 querying Kaede’s absence from school on 3 October 2012 and further absence of a letter explaining said absence.
On the day in question my Wife made the heinous error of actually informing Miss ****** in a verbal face to face type fashion that Kaede would indeed be absent on that day and the reasons for that absence.  Unfortunately I was not at the morning drop-off as I had stayed behind to look after Kaede.  If I had of been present I would have patiently explained to my wife that she should have stood outside the school office and rung the school phone number to report Kaede’s absence.  Of course, it now seems that that also would have been erroneous as a letter is now required for a single days absence.
Firstly I apologise for the lack of a hand written letter but unfortunately my calligraphy skills leave a lot to be desired.  In fact they have oft been likened to the trail a diarrheatic spider leaves as he crawls towards a toilet.
The reasons for Kaede’s absence from school on 3 October 2012 can be simply explained but I feel that, due to my previously mentioned administrative error, you deserve a full explanation for said absence.  I hope the following will be indeed that.
Kaede was born on 23 February 2005, it was rather a cold and wet day, and in fact at one point we actually had snow.  This prompted, a rather rash one as it turned out, a suggestion by myself that we should give her the middle name of Yukionna – which means ‘snow fairy’ in Japanese.  Despite the copious amounts of gas and air, pethidine and adrenaline running through my Wife’s system, she still had the good sense to verbally slap me down for the idiot I was obviously being.  To this day Kaede remains middle name free.
Five days later we brought Kaede home for the first time, it was a joyous day for all of us.  Well I say all of us, Kaede cried a lot and when she did smile I actually think it was wind, although I didn’t tell her mother that, sometimes it’s best not to shatter illusions too early.
The first six months were hectic, of course they were, but we struggled on through with the dangled promise of a night of uninterrupted sleep on the horizon – that day never came.  From aged six months Kaede would cough throughout the night, waking first herself and then us up.  As is the want of anxious parents, we took Kaede to our local GP and we were prescribed the first of many liquid paracetamol prescriptions.  After a further six months I was actually convinced that she drank more paracetamol than milk, although I’m sure that’s an exaggeration on my part.
From aged 12 to 24 months we saw a plethora of Doctors (I once read that the collective for a bunch of Doctors was a Quack of Doctors but I remain unconvinced as to the veracity of that), all of whom had a different explanation as to her ill-health.  Six different explanations with only one thing in common – the problem was not of their speciality.  Kaede became the equivalent of a human pass-the-parcel with your reward being a hacking two year old.
It was at aged two that fate and the NHS finally shone on us.  Upon witnessing my Wife’s near-on physical breakdown in the surgery reception, a kindly old Doctor finally recommended a specialist in chest and lungs and arranged an appointment.  We attended this appointment with not much hope in our hearts, after all we had had the health carrot dangled in front of us before.  Like doubting-Thomas’s we trudged into the room only to find the light at the end of the tunnel.  Kaede had a form of acid reflux that began with G and had too many vowels in it.  The acid had been creeping up from her stomach as she slept and like an unwelcome traveller in a disused car park, started to camp out in Kaede’s lungs.  With the help of one pill, taken thrice daily for two weeks, she was all but cured.  She had to remain on antibiotics for a solid two years, but eventually all was good and she started to sleep through the night.
All this leads to the night of 2 October 2012, an evening that started as normal but soon went to hell in a hand-cart.  At approximately 20.17 I heard a slight cough emanating from Kaede’s bedroom.  It was only a slight cough and your average parent probably would not have heard it.  We are not average parents however and despite the slightly high volume of the TV (we were watching Boardwalk Empire and it can be a little loud in places) we sat up like a pair of hyperactive meerkats.  I placed my hand on my Wife’s arm to calm her, reduced the volume on the TV and cocked an ear towards the front room door.
There it was again, definitely a cough and definitely Kaede.
I trudged up the stairs with some reluctance it must be said, fearing the worst but trying to remain optimistic, it may have been a dust-bunny or something.  I sat outside Kaede’s door playing Angry Birds on my iPhone to pass the time (with the volume off of course) and waited to see how bad it would get.  The cough persisted and started to get louder and chestier.  I started to fear that her old illness was back, although the chances were that  it was because she had been running around the garden without a coat on despite being told to put one on four times.
We administered the standard duo of cough mixture and paracetamol suspension and crossed our fingers.  By 22.00 the coughing still hadn’t stopped, it wasn’t at an alarming level but just enough to keep her awake.  She slept with my wife in the family bed that night, with myself decamping to the sofa bed we have downstairs (a sofa bed that was bought with exactly these situations in mind).
Both my Wife and Kaede had a sleepless night that night (which may explain my Wife’s mistake in actually telling the teacher face to face what the problem was with Kaede) and we decided that Kaede should stay at home that day and try to catch up on some sleep.  Her cough seemed to have improved and we felt that a day of rest and maybe some educational television, such as the Discovery or History Channel, would do her the world of good.  This was indeed the case and she steadily improved throughout the day.
My Wife and I had a rather frank discussion that night and we decided that unless we had a repeat of the previous night, Kaede could return to school the following day.  A quick perusal of your attendance records will show you that Kaede did, in fact, attend school the next day as we did not have a repeat performance of the previous nights coughing.
I hope this letter is sufficient for your records, in fact it may be a good idea to carefully glue it to the front of her file, thereby saving me the trouble of explaining what we call ‘The Sleepless Coughing Years’ again.  If you have any further questions or if there is anything else you need explained regarding this unfortunate situation, please, please, do not hesitate to write to me and ask.  I have also decided to carry a pad of Post-it notes with me at all times, this way I can write the reasons for any future absences on them and hand the note straight to you.
Jamie Harding,
Parent of Kaede Harding.
Well one of them, she has two.
The other being my wife Patricia Harding.

Monday, October 15, 2012

As funny as a heart attack

So I’m running, I can’t hear them coming but I know they are.  I stupidly turn around and they’re even nearer now, a row of snarling stone teeth.  The weeping angels are catching me.  Thankfully I wake up, cursing my daughter for making me watch Doctor Who again.

But my god, the pain in my chest, it feels like one of the kids are sitting on me.  I sit up and check, it’s not unheard of for one of them to jump on me as a loving wake up call.  Nope, no kids, just an incredible heavy pain across my upper chest.  Now I’m worried.
Could the dream really have given me a heart attack, however mild?  A more likely alternative was surely the ox-cheek curry I made last night, not crazy hot but nice and spicy.  I decided to sleep it off.
Having nodded off I then dreamt I was sharing a pint with a somewhat pissed David Cameron, a captive audience as he lectured me on the necessity of economic prudence.  To be honest I would rather have the weeping angels back.
Again I wake.  I take a deep breath, hold it and hope.  Nope, still in pain and now a healthy dose of panic has been thrown into the mix.  Of course it was heartburn, it had to be, but I started to wonder about how many people ignored the first signs of a heart attack purely because they had eaten a curry the night before?  Maybe the curry was giving a false negative, as it were?  I mean, having a curry can’t be a cure or preventative to having a heart attack can it?
But still, my irrational overriding worry was that if I did go to the hospital and it did turn out to be heartburn, well, then I would forever be known as a Sean.  Sean is a close friend of mine who called an ambulance when he had a heart attack only to be given a Rennie at A&E.  And of course we let him forget about it, not.
I didn’t really want to tell the Mrs, she’s not exactly known to be a calming influence in these situations and when she caught me clutching my chest as I was getting dressed, she reacted with a predictable but vaguely acceptable level of drama.  She suggested that she should Google the symptoms and on the basis I wanted some peace and quiet whilst I got ready, I acquiesced.  When I went downstairs 15 minutes later all she had found out was that Jo had posted yet another cute picture of Tallhulabelle McLilly and Phil the Postboy’s piles were playing up.  God bless Facebook, the medical almanac of the brain-dead.
She then quietly reminded me that we were due at church this morning and for once I didn’t complain, I figured I would need all the help I could get.
Upon arrival we sat ourselves down in a fairly empty pew, all the better for me to nod off in, with the only witness to my upcoming blasphemy being Michelle and her daughter.  Looking around the church I noticed how many stone angels there actually were in the church and I felt the pain in my chest starting to increase.  I started to think that coming to church was a bad idea, then Josie and the J’s turn up like a pack of cartoon cats fighting, and I knew it was.
The priest walked in and the place began to sound like a Hendrix concert, well the feedback did anyway.  His radio mike clearly clashing with his hearing aid and I watched a hundred pensioners rock out and adjust their own earpieces.
It was during the first reading, Marks gospel to Leviticus – “May he with the most pious face cast the first stare” – that I had my own epiphany.  I would consume a load of things that could potentially make heartburn worse, if the pain increased then the problem was heartburn, if it didn’t then it was obviously time for a trip to A&E.
After a quick search of Binggle I had my list of consumables and, with the help of a trip to TFI Thursdays, I started on my painful voyage of discovery.
I started with a large vodka and bitter lemon with a pint of Budweiser to wash it down.  Ordering a large plate of JD Buffalo wings, French fries and onion rings, I felt guilt free, safe in the knowledge that I was conducting a medical experiment that could save my life.  Washing all that lot down with a Bloody Mary I ordered dessert, the Chocolate Mountain of Dairy Surprise (the surprise being the amount they charged for it).  I contentedly patted my now distended stomach (OK, even more distended) and awaited the results of my experiment.
I lay here now, it’s 2am and thankfully I’m in my own bed rather than the hospitals.  The pain got worse, of course it did, so now I’ve settled for the old fashioned remedy for heartburn – Pepto Bismol and JD, over ice of course.
Just in case I was wrong, thanks for reading me over all these years.  Please leave loads of really complimentary comments about how my writing changed your life and put a never-ending smile on that cute old face of yours, my grieving family would no doubt appreciate it. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Gaggia Gelatiera

A couple of weeks ago those lovely people at Phillips asked me if I wanted to try out an ice cream maker.  Being the dutiful husband that I am, I checked with the wife first, although unfortunately I did so within earshot of the mini-monsters.

ME:  Do we want an ice cream maker?
THE MRS:  What kind of ice cream maker?
KIDS:  Ice cream?
ME:  The kind that makes ice cream of course.
THE MRS:  I mean what make is it?
KIDS:  Ice Cream?
ME:  Does it matter?
THE MRS:  Of course it does.
KIDS:  Ice Cream?
ME:  Aren’t they all the same?
THE MRS:  Nope. So again, what make is it?
KIDS:  Ice Cream?
ME:  Gaggia
THE MRS:  Get it. Now.

So I kindly took them up on their offer as I feared my life would be in danger if I didn’t.  A few days later my Gaggia Gelatiera ice cream maker turned up and, like a kid at Christmas, I hastily ripped it out of its box.  It has its own refrigeration unit which is good news if you want your ice cream nice and quick and want to dispense with all that ‘freeze ingredients, mix together and freeze again’ type nonsense you get with other machines.  As long as your ingredients are cool when you put them in, then you get ready to eat ice cream in 30 minutes, perfect.  The bad news was that that meant I couldn’t instantly start using the machine for a sneaky ice cream session whilst the kids where at school as, with all fridges, you have to let them settle first.
Later that evening, after the kids had gone to bed, I decided to get going with a basic vanilla ice cream.  I’ve posted the recipe at the bottom of the blog (as I will with all the ones I mention) but it’s pretty simple stuff to be honest.  The only prep that took any time at all was letting the milk cool down after you had placed the seeds from a vanilla pod in it and brought it to a boil.  Fiveteen minutes later I was pouring the contents into the Gaggia (after letting the unit pre-freeze itself for a whopping 5 minutes) and 30 minutes after that I was eating some of the best vanilla ice cream I had ever tasted.  The Mrs thought it was better than ‘restaurant’ ice cream and really rich (something she never says about me).
The next night after an afternoon of very loud coercion from the kids, I decided to make them some.  One problem, I had forgotten to buy any eggs.  No worries, the instruction manual had a quite simple ‘no egg ice cream’ recipe, so simple that the only difference was not adding the eggs.  It is at this stage that I must admit my ice cream ignorance, up until the day before I didn’t even realise that you put eggs in ice cream.  But now that I did know, well, I was slightly worried about how the egg-free version was going to turn out.  Well I needed have worried, it turns out like the ice cream you get from the ice cream vans, just with more substance.  The kids were mad for it and I was duly christened ‘The best Dad in the world - ever – again’.  Music to my ears.  I tasted some myself and preferred it to the egg version if I’m quite honest.  I’ve never really been an egg person anyway, I always thought that Humpty Dumpty had got what he deserved.
The next thing on the to-make list was sorbet.  I’m a massive lover of the stuff and will always pick it ahead of ice cream, nothing better than a tangy lemon sorbet.  3 lemons, some sugar, some water and 30 minutes later – Ta da – lemon sorbet tangy enough to make you pull the ‘Priest hearing a dirty joke’ face.
Days later as I was planning my next ice cream, I realised that I hadn’t taken any pictures of my creations to adorn this piece and when you see the pictures I did end up taking you will see why.  Our camera is great for underwater and action shots, not so good for arty beautiful food ones.  So please forgive, I tried my best and then I gave up.
A firm favourite of The Mrs is raspberry ripple and I felt sufficiently confident to give it a whirl.  I used the eggless ice cream recipe, throw out the vanilla, halved the sugar and added some blitzed up raspberries that I kept in a separate pot.  As the ice cream started to solidify I slowly poured the raspberries in and hoped for the best.
Well as you can see, it didn’t exactly look like the traditional raspberry ripple, but by god it tasted awesome.  After further research, (I asked one of the Mums in the playground) I realised my mistake – I should have taken the ice cream out earlier, swirled the juice in and then left it to set in the freezer, better luck next time and all that.
In my quest to find some new and slightly unusual flavours I picked the brains of Kate (the aforementioned raspberry ripple expert whose food blog is at .)  Amongst other things, she suggested strawberry and basil ice cream which definitely fit in the strange but yummy category that I was looking for.  I tore a big bunch of basil leaves up and threw them into the heated milk and let it all cool down.  I then whizzed up a load of strawberries (I know, you’re astounded by my high levels of accuracy) and threw them into the cream, halved the sugar and that was that.
What a taste-bud surprise.  I knew what was coming my way yet still my tongue did a little dance of confusion with the first mouthful.  My wife however found it was not exactly to her taste, a ‘little bit too adult’ don’t you know.  Personally I feel this is the fault of her taste buds, she has what doctors call ‘Lucozade-tongue’ and therefore has the palette of a Chilean miner.
I now seem to have become an ice cream monster, I spend hours daydreaming about new recipes and concoctions and it’s all Gaggia’s fault.  This machine is an absolute dream to work with, no mucking around pre-freezing stuff, or waiting around for a mixture to freeze.  I’m yet to find a lump of ice or frozen milk in anything yet, it’s delivered a perfect smooth mix every time.  It’s fast, it comes with a separate removable bowl for when you want to make larger batches of ice cream and it’s easy to clean (especially if you bribe one of the kids to do it with the promise of more ice cream.)  I started this trial wondering if an ice cream maker was really necessary and I’m now fully convinced, especially when it comes to the kids.  I can control the amount of sugar going in it (I normally halve it), I know the eggs used are free-range and as long as I have some milk and cream in the house I can shut them up within delicious ice cream that takes 30 minutes to make – perfect.
I have to thank Phillips, Gaggia and Sam from Ketchum Pleon for providing me with the Gaggia Gelatiera but I do have an apology to make - I can’t return the machine because a magpie swooped through an open kitchen window and flew away with it, honest. 
Now, who’s for Pimms sorbet?

Vanilla Ice Cream
200g milk
half a vanilla pod
4 egg yolks (skip these for the eggless version)
150g sugar
200g double cream
small pinch of salt
Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod and add to the milk in a small saucepan, almost bring to the boil, remove from the heat and allow to cool for 15 mins.  Mix the yolks with the sugar and salt, beating until well blended.  Then add the milk and cream.  Pour into the pre-cooled ice cream maker and set the timer for 30 minutes.
Lemon Sorbet
3 large lemons
180g sugar
250g of water
Grate the peel of half a lemon and then juice all three lemons.  Mix all the ingredients together.  Pour into the pre-cooled ice cream maker and set the timer for 30 minutes.