Come along for the ride!!

Monday, December 31, 2007

Sayonara Oh-Oh-Seven!

Well, once again we find ourselves staring back over the previous 365 days and attempting to summarise them as best we can.

I am no different in this respect but will spare you the torture of reliving it all with me. If I am honest, generally speaking it was much the same as all the other years and this is one of the many reasons having children is so terrific – they add an interesting dimension to life, allowing you to see the world through their young eyes.

A football mad friend bought Joseph a digital money box in the shape of a football (naturally) and the money total display goes up as you push each coin through the slot. I love that a child would rather take two 5p coins over a single £1 coin because obviously “that’s worth more”. He has managed to accrue £5 and 16 pence already and his eyes light up when discussing what he could go and buy in a few weeks of saving.

Annabel was given a baby Annabel which is startlingly lifelike; crying, belching after being fed real water and closing her eyes to go to sleep. Watching her take care of her “baby” seems to blow the sociological argument of nature versus nurture right out of the water.

M’s year involved a lengthy and worrying operation but she took it in her stride (as with most things) and is mending very nicely.


I’m just the proud Dad I was this time last year.

Prouder, in fact.

Joseph moved up to reception and is doing brilliantly, with his reading ability amazing everyone. The pact made by Joseph and myself seems to be working very well. Whenever he thinks I am going to moan about something, he pre-empts me by saying, “oh, don’t be grumpy Dad” and amazingly it acts like a slap in the face, snapping me out of my “moan phase”. Until the next moan anyway.

Annabel moved up a class also and we wait to see if she can move again, following her friends into the “big” room. Heartbreakingly, she kept commenting that her bestest chums weren’t in day after day, when in fact they were just in the next room. Stupidly, children are moved dependant on their age rather than where they are developmentally. Hopefully, the manager will see fit to move her sooner rather than later. Either that or I will ask for her to be moved repeatedly until he does move her. I can be very persistent.

I am doing my best to appreciate that Annabel's yelling is actually her wanting my attention rather than her seeing how far she can get me to push my fingers down my ear canals in a bid to block out the noise. I put this into practice yesterday and it does seem to be doing the trick although I know Day 1 is rather early days to be commenting on progress.

Remember that it will be a day longer than this year with February benefiting from an extra Friday on the 29th so be sure to enjoy that extra day at work won’t you???

Whatever it holds, whatever you have planned and wherever it takes you, I hope the year of 2008 will be a happy, peaceful and above all else, a healthy one for you and yours.

Take care

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Odobenus rosmarus

A short while back, we went for lunch with some friends at Horniman’s Museum. I’ve mentioned the place in the past and it is a smashing little museum in South East London, with a working bee hive made of glass, a terrific sound proof music room in which your budding Alicia Keys or Mark Ronson can impress you (and those around them) with their musical ear, and more stuffed animals and skeletons than you’ve had hot dinners.

Well, about a hundred at any rate.

Hang on, why am I telling you this?

Oh yes. In the very centre of the main room is an absolutely gi-normous stuffed walrus which was kindly donated to the United Kingdom in the late 1890’s, I think as a gift to Queen Victoria. (She can’t have taken that very well I’m sure??)

Anyhoo, apart from the fact that the walrus itself is about 8 feet tall, it is also sat up on a plinth shaped like an iceberg, adding another 3 feet to it’s overall height, making it very imposing and, as far as Annabel is concerned, bloody scary!

Hold that thought.

Yesterday, at the end of a party that Joseph had been invited to, the child’s mother handed out party bags and, wouldn’t you know it, the boys party bag’s ran out as it got to his turn. This wouldn’t have been so bad were it not for the fact that he had seen the contents of his friend’s bag’s and he was well aware that they contained a Red Power Ranger.

And our survey says? Uh-uhhhhhhhhh!

I have to hand it to him, he waited until we got outside before letting his face fall (kudos Son, kudos) but boy did it fall. M was putting his seat belt across him as I was strapping Annabel into her seat and, as I felt very sorry for him I said, “Don’t worry Poops, we’ll stop off at Woolworth’s on the way home and see if they have any small Power Ranger’s for you there”.

At this, Annabel started shaking her head and sobbing. I looked at her, wondering if I’d caught her hair in a strap or something and asked what was wrong.

“I don’t like the walrus”, she wailed, “I don’t like it, waaaahhhhhhhhh”.

We allowed ourselves a laugh at her expense.

“WOOLWORTH’S Annabel, not WALRUS”, I explained.

Her relief was obvious.

Bless her heart!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

“Can I have a refund please?”

I appreciate that we all get sick at one point or another throughout the year.

But Christmas? Sick at Christmas?

Is that allowed? Is it even legal?

Well, not in my book Sonny Jim and certainly not all four of us and most certainly not over the entire Christmas period.

Unfortunately this is exactly how our Christmas was spent and Missy is still not back to fully fit.

I guess I shouldn’t moan too much. We were all reasonably ok for the main day – well, except for Annabel – and reading back over Tuesday’s post, I am smiling at the fact that the next day M and I were very, very sick. Your first worried thought is that you may have poisoned each and every one of your guests; “oh no, what if the turkey had bird flu”, or, “oh poop, what if the lamb had bluetongue” or just “maybe an entire bottle of brandy is too much for a Christmas pud’”.

A few quick ‘phone calls however, established that thankfully, no-one else had been poisoned which made me feel a teensy bit better as I threw up for the 8th time in a very short space of time.

But enough of my griping – for your sakes I will keep a stiff upper lip and forge ahead.

I wanted to share the secret of stress free entertaining with you. Unless of course you are lucky enough to be personal friends with Nigella “Queen of the kitchen” Lawson which sadly, I am not.

If you know this already, then I apologise but, as obvious as it may seem, it is all down to advanced planning!

Before you allow your shoulders to slump and you click away to check your e-mails muttering, “time wasting twerp” or other such expletives, let me explain.

Firstly, take a great tip from some chums about perfect roast potatoes. This tip allows you to peel, boil, cool, flour and cover them the night before. Also top, tail, peel and cut (lengthways) your carrots and parsnips, sealing in a bag and refrigerating the night before also. Sprouts get done the same way but the really clever bit, for me anyway, was the timetable for it all.

Ours went like this:

11.35am – preheat oven
11.45am – put turkey in

Go about your business, uncork wine to allow time to breathe, chill beers, soft drinks etc, pour small glass of above mentioned wine for your immediate consumption and relax.

1.00pm – greet guests
1.15pm – preheat potato tray with goose fat in oven
1.30pm – potatoes into goose fat and preheat parsnip tray
1.45pm – parsnips in and open turkey roasting bag to allow skin to crisp
2.00pm – take turkey out of oven and cover, allowing juices to get to work. Sit down to eat cold starters (salmon, prawns, crab pâté, all prepared in advance natch)
2.10pm - pigs in blankets into oven, sprouts & carrots on to steam and warm gravy
2.30pm – switch it all off, carve turkey and lamb and serve to impressed guests, both at the sight and smells of the food, as well as the unruffled nature of their host (yours truly), which is most unusual when he is cooking!

There you go – a step by step guide to enjoying your time in the kitchen.

You’re welcome!

I must say a quick thank you to my Monster-in-law who bought, cooked and delivered the lamb in mushroom sauce which was delicious. I very kindly allowed her to stay as she had worked so hard (kidding) and all in all, I truly enjoyed our Christmas this year.

If I were to tell you one thing that you need in order to carry off this planning, it’s a kitchen timer. No more frantic checking off your watch or the wall clock, making your guests feel like you can’t wait to get rid of them. Not all of them at any rate.

Well, I felt weak before I started writing all that, nose running, shoulder’s aching. I hope you appreciate it???

Ooh, by the way, has anyone ever actually seen Nigella and Russell Brand in the same room at the same time?

No, me either dammit, but I think they might just be the same person! Whether his stubble is sprayed on or she has been strategically shaved I’m not sure but next time you see Nigella on tv, quickly stick your Russell DVD on (if you have one) and compare their mannerisms.

They are one!

Either that or I’m bonkers.

Actually, maybe I’m just bonkers.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Liar, liar, pants on fire!

Ok, ok, I admit it, I did lie! I said I would be back here saying something “interesting” last night and I just did not have time. Seriously.

Enough of the excuses however, I’m here now.

And what, on the night of Christmas itself, have I got to say? Not an incredible amount to be perfectly honest but as usual, enough for me to justify to myself, sitting here, spilling the beans stored up in my noodle into html for you to read.

I sat down the other night to continue a tradition that has taken place in my family for at least, ooh, 4 years. Yep, the reading of the Radio Times. Not just reading the Radio Times but the circling of interesting programmes in the Radio Times.

I used to think that the Radio Times was an “old persons” magazine and that you had to be knocking on to enjoy, or understand it.

Now I am approaching the end of my 30’s , I know it’s an old person’s magazine! And you know what? I love it!

Yes, I love sitting down with a glass of wine and circling (in permanent marker of course) the programmes I hope to watch or listen to over the course of the next week. With the Christmas edition, it’s the next two weeks, although I have recorded and then immediately recorded over 3 different programmes in two days.

As much as I enjoy this little ritual however, I must draw the line at seeds. Giving away free seeds in my favourite (and only) magazine is pushing the boundaries just that little too far; I’m not that old!!!

So, here we are; December 25th. Christmas Day. Two thousand and seven years on from the main event. And what did we do?

I guess we did what most people did; got together with family members who mean a lot to you. Ate too much, drank more than absolutely necessary, gave and received far too many presents and generally over indulged in one way or another.

Yesterday Joseph played the part of shepherd and Annabel played a beautiful angel, even though she has been unwell and today we ate, drank and laughed with our parents and brothers all afternoon.

Being together reminded me how lucky I am, especially with regards to my children. M and I decided that next year, we are going to sponsor a child or buy a goat with the money we would have otherwise spent on presents, as the amount of gifts our two children received was, frankly, obscene.

It’s not their fault, it’s not ours, our parents or our friends fault but it is not quite right that everything should be geared towards one day of excess such as today. I must say that I am pleased that the true meaning of today has been explained at Joseph’s school and has obviously sunk in because he has mentioned it more than once today.

In fact, the song he sang the other night in his nativity play rang home. The lyrics went something like this;

“Search the heavens, look everywhere, there’s a star for you, up there”.

“Up there” is coupled with pointing up into the sky and for some stupid reason it always makes me upset. How ridiculous!

The song does however, serve as a reminder of how lucky I am, to have people whom I love (my family), who love me (my family), who look up to me (my children) and those that I wouldn’t dream of hurting (all the above) and so on.

I saw a group of pictures the other day which have stayed with me. They were from the Unicef picture of the year awards and to be honest, it was the text for the winning one which has haunted me since. They all remind you of how lucky you are though.

I will reserve comment on it so as to let you make your own minds up but they are extremely powerful.

Whatever you did today, Happy Christmas.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

"No time to say hello, goodbye, I'm late, I'm late, I'm late ..."

I can hardly believe it. It’s late in the evening on the 23rd of December and I’ve made barely a mention of the fact that the Big Day is almost here.

26 hours away to be precise.

It seems to have snuck up on me this year for some reason. Actually, the main reason is that M has choreographed and taken care of pretty much everything this year, from the buying of presents to the planning of the menu for the 25th.

However, there are a few late minute “bits” for me to do tomorrow

In no particular order, they are:

Take Annabel to nursery.
Drop off gift and card to local GP (?)
Buy icing sugar for Joseph’s gingerbread cake
Help Joseph ice the above cake!
Hang giant bauble in porch (last minute purchase by M)
Varnish new wooden strip on back doors (last minute change by me)
Prepare all vegetables for 25th
Tidy house
Keep Joseph happy – not always easy!
Iron table cloth
Collect Annabel
Convince both children to take a short nap due to late evening ahead
Prepare shepherd and Angel costumes

If I haven’t collapsed before 10pm tomorrow night, I will stop by here to write something worthwhile.

He says!

Friday, December 21, 2007

My thumbs have gone weird.

Forgot to mention that on Saturday we went to see a play at the Unicorn Theatre in Tooley street, more famous perhaps for being the location of the London Dungeons.

It’s a terrific theatre, opened by Sir Richard Attenborough in 2005, costing £13 million and built specifically for a young audience.

We watched a production of Handa’s Surprise, a book by Eileen Brown and was acted out by two actresses (who were excellent), with one as Handa and the other as the various animals who steals her fruit on her journey to see a friend.

A nice surprise was that the author herself was in the tiny audience (there were about 25 people including children sat around in a circle) and she signed copies of the book afterwards, none of which impressed the children all that much, sadly.

And who knows; perhaps the memory of this 30 minute adaptation of a popular book will lodge itself somewhere in their young psyche’s and instil a fondness for the performing arts as they grow up.

They might even become ac-tors.


Monday, December 17, 2007

“There’s a star for you .... up .... there”

Ah yes, that wonderful time of year when parent’s filter nervously into the school hall to watch their children act out the nativity. I mentioned that Joseph was slightly irked that he wasn’t going to be Joseph (if you see what I mean) but as it turns out, he had more to do than the actual role of Joseph.

He was a star – literally. He was dressed as a singing, shooting star but he also played an instrument.

What can I say that you probably don’t already know (as a parent)? As soon as you see your child, you swell with pride. As soon as they open their mouth to sing, you want to burst into tears.

The very professional production opened with a song about each of us having a star “up there” (in the night sly) and their singing and pointing in unison was the “bit wot done me in”.

There was a slight wobble when Joseph stood up to stand at the front of the stage and he couldn’t find his hitting stick and his face fell for a moment before someone passed him another one.

The concentration on his face also tugged at my heart strings good and hard, making sure he kept tempo, looking up to ensure he was in time with his partner on the blocks and an occasional stolen peek up at M and me to make sure we were still there and still watching.

All in all, it lasted half an hour but it wasn’t a bum-clenching half hour. It was terrific, a great effort by all the staff and once again, it showed me how amazing children’s memories are.

We were told that they had been learning the songs for less than a month and there were about 8 songs and actions to go with the songs.

After he had finished, we had a mad dash to see Annabel’s (slightly less impressive) interpretation of the nativity which, for her age group, consisted of a rushed rendition of Jingle bells; that was it!

I must say however, that at last year’s Christmas concert, the curtain went back and Annabel spotted us within 2 seconds and promptly burst into tears. This year she stood and sang the whole song before they were all released.

A genuinely funny entertainer followed before deep fried, greasy snacks were offered, then home to bed.

I probably don’t need to tell you how busy our weekend was, being this close to Christmas.

Yours too eh?

As Scrooge would say, “this time in two weeks, it’ll all be over”.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

You? You’re the Rain Man?

Now I know that all parents see brilliance in their own children, I know that. I also know that children’s brain’s are like sponges and will soak up anything they hear or see but I’m gonna tell you this anyway.

We printed out the maze below for Joseph to do (as he loves mazes) but I said to him it was time for bed and that he could do it the next morning before school. I leave his room for about a minute to hang up his towel and replace his toothbrush and when I come back into his room, he is sitting on the floor looking at the maze.

“Come on, into bed”, I say to him. “You can do that in the morning. Come on”.

He begrudgingly puts the maze on his desk and gets into bed.

Cut to this morning and we are downstairs eating breakfast when he looks at me, eyes wide, jumps down from his chair and disappears upstairs and comes back into the room holding his maze.

“Can you get me a pencil Dad?” he asks.

I get him a pencil, hand it over and then watch, amazed, as he literally completes the maze in under 10 seconds.

“Wow! How on earth did you do that so quickly?” I ask him, completely gobsmacked.

He smiles as he can tell I’m genuinely impressed. “I just did”.

He goes on to tell me that he looked at the maze before bed last night and remembered the way to get from start to finish. All he had to do was draw in the missing line.

Oh boy, I need to get one of those brain trainers. I know we lose brain capacity as we get older but I don’t think I could have done this maze as quick.

Perhaps you had to see it to believe it!

Go go Power Rangers!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

“There is no room at the inn”

Starring roles in this year's nativity play were handed out last week and Joseph came home quite disappointed (and a little confused) that one of the starring roles, namely that of Joseph, did not automatically go to him on the grounds of his name.

“But James isn’t called Joseph. I am”, he wailed.

When I asked him what he was doing, he rather sadly pointed out that he will be “sitting at the end of the bench, singing songs”.

Don’t worry my love – maybe next year.

On a happier note, Annabel has taken to her new bed with gusto and one of my worst fears has thankfully been dispelled.

Being such a light sleeper, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to sneak into her room to tuck her in last thing at night as I do with Joseph but her new bed clothes (and flannelette pyjamas) are obviously aiding restful sleep, as she lies there peacefully while I straighten her quilt and smooth her blanket.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

“We are sorry for any inconvenience caused …..”

When I went through the rigmarole of changing my working week to a flexible one, I pictured Joseph and I doing fun “father-son” stuff in my new found spare time.

Unbeknownst to me, Royal Mail had other plans.

“No, no Sir, we don’t want you out playing with your son of an afternoon. No, we don’t want you taking him to the swimming pool any time soon. We feel it would be far more fun if you brought your son down to the collection office and stood in a queue in order to collect letters or packets that we deemed too big to take out in the first place. For an hour. Yours, with love; Royal Mail”.

For the 3rd time this week alone, I had to convince Joseph that the queue outside the collection office wasn’t boring and that I’m sure it would be something interesting this time.

Unsurprisingly, following the less than impressive collections earlier in the week, he took this statement with a pinch of salt, stopping short of calling me a ‘fibber’ outright.

The hour long wait wouldn’t have been so bad perhaps, if I hadn’t got to the front of the queue before watching the ……. gentleman, walk off with my form and then reappear 15 minutes later saying, “here’s a compensation form for you to fill in”. Those were his first words!

In other words, my package got lost somewhere between our postman trying to deliver it to me and bringing it back to the office.

How is that possible?

Their website proudly says, “see how you can get more from your mail with our range of services”.

Get more? How about pitching a tent outside the office and catch your mail going in rather than hope to see it arrive at your home? That’s one way of “getting more” from your postal service.

And is the name “Royal Mail” really justified?

What’s “Royal” about it? Would the Queen put up with it? I doubt it.

So, let’s ditch the ‘royal’ bit and use ‘average’ shall we?

On top of this, they haven’t ‘mailed’ me anything for a while; I’ve had to go and get everything myself so we can lose the ‘mail’ tag too. How about ‘collect’ instead?

I can see the new slogan now.

“Average Collect – we don’t go the extra mile”.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Ding dong, merrily on high

Well, if I thought we put our Christmas tree up early last year on the 4th, eat your heart out, up it went on Saturday afternoon and it looks terrific.

Apart from spending an hour on Saturday afternoon in a queue waiting to collect an undelivered letter, we spent pretty much the entire weekend indoors, decorating the house, eating delicious grub (this is not just food, this is M and S food), with winter ales aplenty and the odd glass of warming red rioja.

It could’ve been so different too.

Saturday first thing, I took my bike (from the title of this blog fame), for an MOT and it failed on a rather non-existent front brake but …….

Hang on, hang on, did you say MOT? Do you mean this bike of yours in the title of these pages is a motorbike?

Not a bicycle?

Of all the ……

Yes, yes, I must admit finally that my bike is indeed of the motorised variety.

Over a year ago I received a comment from someone who congratulated me on my earth friendly green attitude to transport and I must confess that I didn’t exactly point out that it had an engine.

I didn’t say it was a bicycle; I just didn’t explain all.

How naughty.

After queuing as mentioned, our letter was of the recall variety, saying our new-ish car might have a serious fault with it and should be returned asap.

Just great.

Thankfully, my cheery outlook on life allowed me to come sailing through with nothing more than my smile at a slightly more jaunty angle than usual.

M was amazed.

So was I if the truth be told.

Don’t you love the Christmas season?