Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Your Worst Nightmare

Oh my God, I am 20 minutes into a power cut, and I have started to lose the will to live already. Katy and Mate, having been deprived of their Disney fix, are running round the house screaming. Every now and then Mate will stop and hand me the remote control, his look says "Dad you can fix anything, make it work." He can't say these words yet, but the constant prodding gets his point across. I have now realised how often I use the TV as a punishment tool, my "quieten down, or I will turn this off". This now has no meaning or impact. I am Superman and the lack of electricity is my kryptonite.

I am thankful for Dawn's laptop, with which I am writing this now, but the lack of internet is starting to have an effect on me. I can't Google kryptonite, so I have no idea if I have spelt it right or not. Where else can I find this information? When I write I like the quiet distraction of tweetdeck flashing away in the top corner, letting me know every time one of my friends has something to say. The challenge of being witty in 140 characters started me writing in the first place, can I still write without it? I guess you will be the judge of that, once I eventually get to upload this that is.

35 minutes now. They have told me on the phone that it will be 3pm at the earliest, it's only 11.37 now, I must take a deep breath and calm down. It's not the end of the world is it, is it? Oh apparently it is, well it is to Dawn, as Mate has just drawn on her piece of paper. Give me strength, someone give me strength.

I know, let's go out for a walk, that will kill some time. Oh somebody please give me a break. It is the end of July and the rain is torrential. Is this a test of some kind, am I being filmed? Or has some cosmic deity decided its 'Poop on J' day? I'm not a bad bloke really. OK, I do take the piss a bit, can have a caustic tongue when it suits me, but surely that does not deserve this.

Has just occurred to me that my friends on twitter won't know what's happened to me. They must be wondering by now, I was in the middle of at least 3 conversations. At least one of them must be thinking about me. I wonder if I can plug the phone line straight into the laptop?

Nope, that hasn't worked, and now the kids have found the broadband router, they think it is the answer to the problem, and that shaking it will turn the power back on. Stupid kids, I tried that half an hour ago, of course it won't work. I hate this laptop, why is it so hard to go back and put a missing apostrophe in?

This unfinished twitter conversation is really starting to bug me now, there must be a solution. Eureka, I will ring my mate Andy, he is the only person in the real world who has tried it. He gave up after one day, but not before I introduced him to a few of my virtual friends. He can let them know I am safe, and not to worry.

Have just come off the phone to Andy, all sorted, I feel a bit better now. Oh my god, am I an addict, I can't be, don't be silly. Next problem, the kids, this one won't be so easy.

They are running round in circles at the moment, they seem to be happy. It has been so long since running around in circles made me happy. Nowadays it just drives me nuts, why and when did that change. Wouldn't it be nice to go back to that time?

Mate has just trod on a brick and is screaming, my questions have been answered. It seems that if we keep our shoes on forever, then we will continue to enjoy running around in circles. Wow, that's deep, can't wait to tweet that one. Bugger, how can I?

It's 12.10pm now, if I can just hold the kids out to 12.30pm then its lunchtime. Ten minutes of relative quiet, not long to go. I have just caught a look at my reflection in the laptop's screen. I look like that famous painting by Munch I think, 'Scream', best Google that to check. Damn. Just when you think you have got over the pain, something pops up and slaps you in the face to remind you. Is this what grieving is like? I'm not comparing the two of course, but I do have a sense of loss. I think I'm getting a migraine.

Is 12.15 too early for lunch? It's a one off, am sure it won't matter too much, yes let's do lunch. Whilst they eat I can have a nice cup of coffee and read the paper. No instant coffee, perfect. Just caught myself stamping my foot in temper, trod on brick, all is clear again.

Have beers in the fridge, which is off, of course. I will have to drink them before they spoil. A silver lining at last, three of them in fact. That's better, there are no problems only solutions. Who said that? Caught myself in time then, it was my brother in law Mr Cliché-Man, one of his favourites that one.

Have 55 minutes battery life left on laptop. That only takes me up to 1.24pm, Mate won't have even gone for his nap by then. Will turn it off for a while, read the paper or something. I still have the Sunday Times to get through, that should do nicely.

Back again, it is now 1.45pm and by some kind of strange computer mathematics, there are only 39 minutes of battery left. How can turning something on and off take 16 minutes of battery? I had just got myself into a calm state of mind (putting Mate upstairs for his nap helped), and now this whole battery situation has got me all het up again.

The sun is out now, maybe I should go out in the garden, do some weeding or something. I love listening to opera when I'm gardening, makes me feel high-brow, and sure confuses the neighbours. I was looking for my Madam Butterfly CD when we lost the power, have found it now but of course I can't listen to it can I. Maybe this is Verdi's cosmic revenge on me for not choosing La Traviata to listen to. Were him and Puccini rivals back in the day? I would look it up but, well you know the end of that sentence.

Whilst I have be daydreaming about a Puccini/Verdi sing off X-factor style, Katy has grabbed anything not nailed down and piled it up in the middle of the room. According to the battery remaining clock, I have only been tranced out for six minutes, how did the pile of debris get so high? Do all laptop users time their day by how much battery is left? Do they say to each other things like "Meet you in Starbucks at 58 minutes remaining"?

I think I may be going insane. I always thought insane would be a loud thing to happen, come at you all kicking and screaming. When in actual fact it is a stalking lion, creeping up on an unsuspecting Gnu. Katy is now whispering to Mount Debris. I can't hear what she is saying but I bet it's about me. I have taken away her basic human right to electricity, and Playhouse Disney.

Offered her a lolly pop to test the waters, she just gave me a sad look and said that she only has them when she watches TV, apparently it's not the same now.

Have just spent 8 battery remaining minutes convincing Katy to have a lolly pop. In the end I had to agree to cut some flowers from the hanging baskets to put in her flower press, just so she would agree to put a huge lump of sugar in her mouth. I think a lack of electricity is altering my perception. I am too confused to know if this is a good or bad state of affairs.

Panic has set in, the '10 minutes of battery life remaining' icon has started flashing. It's only 2.30pm, what am I going to do. This laptop is the only link with my old life, those pre-boredom years. I can't let go of that, I'm not ready to move on.

Have officially hit the bottom rung of the insanity ladder. Just took a photo of the screen to remind me of the old days. I am worried that the ten minutes promised will not be accurate, must save before it's too late. Done. Should I save after each sentence? What if my final line is a real good one and I have not sav

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What we learnt this year

Well the summer break is now upon us and Katy has finished her first year at school. I know it was nursery and not real school, but it was attached to the school, and the same Parent and Child dynamics hold true. Next term will mean the start of Reception year for her, more tears from her Mum on the first day (not from me you understand, stiff upper lip and all that). It means a real uniform at last, resulting in one less thing to have to think of, pre-coffee every morning. It will also leave me and Mate to do boy things almost exclusively from 9am to 2pm, leaving 2-3pm open for cleaning up of mess and selves, before braving the gauntlet of impeccable Mums at the school gate.

I look back over this past year and wonder how on earth I survived it. I bumbled along from faux-pas to fashion disaster (mine and Katy's) like a drunken ape, and yet I still managed to learn a few things along the way. I will take these life lessons with me into the new school year, in the hope that forewarned is forearmed. So here are some of the things I have learnt this year, and in the belief that history is a lesson in how not to make future mistakes, this should act as my defensive shield for next term.

There are two speeds of stroller pushing Mum, and just by looking at them from afar, you should be able to tell if they are on the way to school, or on the way home. The school-bound Mum pushes with speed and purpose, stopping for neither man nor beast. The accompanying walking children will be half guided half pulled alongside the stroller and woe betide them if they stumble or drop something. Do not attempt to make eye contact if one is seen approaching. She will be employing the 1000 yard stare used by snipers, as she searches for the quickest route and will look straight through you. Whatever you do, avoid the impulse to attempt an overtaking manoeuvre. This will only result in you crashing into a tree at speed, your last sight of Mum being a backwards thrown sneer of contempt.

The home-bound Mum is a different beast altogether, not a care in the world has this Mum. The speed is reduced to a slow meandering crawl, normally two abreast, making any attempt at passing impossible. Your frustration levels will increase, and after 200 yards of this pace you will be forced to cough a polite "Excuse me". They will grudgingly make enough room for you to get by, but you will misjudge this gap and drop one wheel down a curb, resulting in yet another crash. Again your last sight of Mum will be one of a shaking head, combined with the tutting sound reserved for an amateur driver.

I also learnt how to receive a fake phone call. Mock-calls are always handy things to receive when 'Pushy Mum' is trying to gather volunteers to collect/paint/pick-up/distribute something. You turn your back to the group, put your hand in your pocket to retrieve your phone, and in a semi loud voice say "Hello Darling, what's wrong?" You do not need to say anything else, just nod a lot. Whatever you do don't talk otherwise they will realise that you are faking. They know as well as you do that husbands are not allowed to talk during these types of conversations, and you will be busted. Most importantly of all, switch your phone to silent. Can you imagine what would happen if someone was to ring you in the middle of your fake call, a Guns and Roses (Sweet Child of Mine) ringtone blasting through your nodding dog impersonation. I could tell you but I am too busy handing out PTA flyers, then I'm off to dig up the school vegetable patch.

Never, ever, offer a divisive opinion, just don't do it. You have spent the whole year trying to get the Mums to talk to you, and then you weigh in with a sound-bite that then results in Mummy carnage. It could be the most innocent of topics, say for instance, should the nursery trip be to a Zoo or a Farm. Do not answer, this is the perfect time for a Mock-call (don't forget to switch the phone to silent). If you have no alternative but to reply, then sit on that fence until you get splinters. Do not under any circumstances say "I think the Zoo will be better, but to be honest they are both crap ideas. Let's go to the Forest and teach them to climb trees." You may think you were helping, but trust me, you weren't, and your Wife will find out what an idiot you were, eventually.

The last thing I learnt took me until the last day of term to realise. Mums have a weakness. Oh yes they do, and between you and me, don't tell anyone else, do you want to know a secret, I know what it is. They love nothing better than to gossip about each other. Not in a mean spirited kind of way, perish the thought, but general nosiness and gossip keeps their conversations going. We had all chipped in to buy a present for the teachers, to be given to them on the last day of school. For reasons best known to themselves, the Mums decided I would be the one giving the speech. I had spent the whole year trying to get them to listen to me to no avail, and now they wanted me to give them a speech. I am fairly sure 'Irony' was not part of their vocabulary, but I agreed anyway.

The present was an ornamental rose bush (don't ask, I have no idea how that would split 3 ways), which I handed over. I said all the usual platitudes about kids growing up, you have been such a help, inspirational, blah blah blah. It was then I went into mischief mode. I said "I would just to finish on a personal note, if you will indulge me for a few moments more." I could see I had their attention, the idea that I might be giving up some kind of secret had them gripped. I continued "It would not have escaped your notice that I am the only Dad in the group, (pause for polite chuckles) and I must admit it has been hard work learning how to ingratiate myself into your world. It has also been quite a challenge to learn all the things that just seem to come naturally to Mums." They were all smiling and nodding to themselves, a collective agreement in my failings. I then delivered my Coup de grâce, "I would like to thank the Mum, who I won't embarrass by naming, for all those endless cups of coffee whilst she listened to me moan and groan, and for generally putting me on the right track re everything else. I will miss our coffee mornings over the summer, but I won't forget what you told me. Thanks for everything." I then nodded my farewells, making sure I gave a couple of the alpha Mums a hug goodbye, and left them to figure out who the figment of my imagination was.

As Walt Disney said "Always leave them wanting more", and who would know parents and kids better than him?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Gardening Leave? Enjoy the garden then.(Part 1)

My wife was recently made redundant from the bank she had worked at for ten years, and was put on gardening leave for the last month of the process. She already had another job lined up, so there was no panic to look for a job and go on countless amounts of interviews, all she had to do was sit back and enjoy the kids for a month. I was also looking forward to a bit of down time, she could share a few of the daily chores, and maybe we could have a few leisurely lunchtime drinks at our local, the 'Sir Alfred Hitchcock'.

Unfortunately for me, rather than spending some time in his pub, I ended up feeling like I was in one of his films, 'Psycho' perhaps, and my Wife started looking like Tippi Hedren in 'The Birds', all manic and rushing around like a headless chicken every time one of the kids kicked off. This is not what I had in mind for that month, but it's what I got, and it resulted in me crossing off the days on the calendar waiting for her to start work again. I know it sounds cruel, but I think after reading my account of that fateful month, you will tend to agree with me.

"I think the house needs painting" were the first words out of her mouth on Day 1. "Of course dear, which room did you have in mind?" Hoping she would pick one of the small ones, the bathroom maybe, where we have just enough room to swing a mouse. "All of it, inside and outside. It hasn't been done in a while and is starting to look a bit shabby, a bit lived in." My reply of "but Darling dearest, is not the point of a house to be lived in, so by definition it will then look lived in?" cut no ice at all. I later heard her telling the water off for being too watery, and the stairs off for being too up-and-downy.

I spent the rest of Day 1 in Homebase (now known as Homewrecker) and then B&Q, because the former did not have the correct shade of white within its range. Our walls were off-white now, would a clean not suffice? Apparently not, we ended up with a shade called "Second Base Sue", it is white with just the mere hint of red. I thought that as I was stuck with this job I may as well add a few toys to the basket. So in went a new multi-purpose sander, the obligatory new paintbrushes (why I ever clean the old ones is beyond me), 3 rolls of masking tape (1 for painting use, 2 for general mischief and taping the kids together), and a new scary potted plant.

I returned home, and was duly invited upstairs to the bedroom. I must admit that whilst climbing the stairs, the thought that my luck was in and I was going to get an early 'reward' did cross my mind. I can only blame the paint fumes for this obviously stupid thought because, as was quickly pointed out, the next time she would be looking at the bedroom ceiling it, and the rest of the room, would be freshly painted. I rather grumpily started to prepare the room.

I don't actually mind the actual painting part of the process, that can be quite relaxing. It's all the washing, sanding, and moving things about part that absolutely does my head in, and I was tempted to skip this part. I have painted over cobwebs before and it is no big deal, but I was sulking now so I decided to work to rule. If Her Royal Highness Queen of all things Bossy was expecting a quick result, she had another thing coming. I was going to eke this out, lest she find me more jobs to do before this god-forsaken month was up.

By the time it was 2pm I was finally ready to start painting. I shouted downstairs "I'm about to start painting, you had best get some 'Painting Beer' ready, you know the rules." The 'rules' are very simple, provide beers for the duration of the painting. It has been scientifically proved (well my Dad said it and that's good enough for me) that your hand is steadier after a couple of beers, therefore improving the accuracy of your brush strokes. It is fair to say that my Wife is not a massive fan of these rules, but as I swear they are Gospel, she is forced to go along with them. Off she went round the corner, and I started to paint over the 'feature' red wall that she thought was a great idea four years ago, but obviously wasn't, and I've had to live with since then.

The Wife eventually returned, and as I had built a thirst up, I went straight to the fridge only to see one of the most perplexing things I have ever seen. She had only bought three beers. Three beers? I could not understand the thought process, who on earth buys three cans of lager? It actually takes more effort to but three than four, as you have to pull one out of the plastic thingy-me-jig that holds them all together. I don't like to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I was not best pleased. I offered my thanks, and took myself and one of my three beers, back upstairs.

A few hours later I shouted down that I was done, and did she want to inspect my work. Up she bounded, hardly containing her excitement (I really need a sarcasm icon to go here), and the inspection began. Almost immediately she pointed out that I had forgotten to do one of the walls. It was then I triumphantly informed her of sub clause a) of the 'rules', which reads "one beer per wall". She delivered three beers, I painted three walls. A fervent debate then followed, which I shall spare you the gory details of, but the end result was the fourth wall being painted, and a promise from her to never do something so daft again.

I would like to say that this was the only disagreement we had during this time, but it wasn't. I would like to say that all went smoothly from then, but it didn't. I would like to say that my wife could take a hint and continue to supply the beer, but she couldn't. Needless to say, this seems like a natural end to this particular chapter, so I end it here......for now.