Come along for the ride!!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Patience personified

About a month ago, we went to some friends who have children of similar age to our own. Annabel is in nursery with their youngest and Joseph used to be in the same nursery with their oldest; pretty straightforward stuff so far.

While we were there, they were all playing together before disappearing upstairs to cause mischief. After about 20 minutes of us randomly checking on them, Joseph came downstairs with a toy belonging to his friend; I now know this toy to be a Power Ranger Megazord Transformer.

Naturally, the moment we left their house, Joseph started reminding us how much he loved the toy and could he have one for Christmas? Or his next birthday? Or what about just getting it for him anyway?

The week before, M and I had agreed to buy him something (for what I can’t now remember) and so I set about tracking down this impressive looking figure.



Good gravy!

Thank heavens for Ebay eh? So I log on, locate what looks like the right one, bid, win, pay and wait.

I can tell by the size of the box that arrives 3 days later that something is not quite right!

I open it and my doubts were well founded; it was most definitely not right, being less than half the size of the required item.

Joseph sees it, his shoulders drop and his eyes fill up.

Hug, don’t worry, I’m on it!

Next day finds me at a massive toy warehouse and I buy the new version of the ranger for the full £40. Surprisingly, spending this amount on a figure doesn’t hurt as much as I thought it would when I picture how much he really seemed to want it.

I collect him from school, drive him home and excitedly hand him the bag.

He opens said bag, undoes box, removes figure and, smiling all the time says, “oh look, his arms are different from (friends) one”.

My smile fades. Apparently it shouldn’t be holding a sword! I remove the sword but this is not enough.

I take toy back to store and return to Ebay with Joseph standing by my side to ensure an accurate choice this time around.

The one we settle on is second hand, several years old and (after a 5 day wait for the end of the auction) it still manages to cost me £37.

“Will I get it tomorrow Dad?”

“No. I have asked the man to send it as soon as he can so we have to wait”.

Tuesday; no show.

Wednesday: ditto.

Thursday; see above.

Friday: a large box arrives in my office.


The bottom line? It’s the right one, he loves it and plays with nothing else for the entire weekend. Money well spent methinks.

In other news and as boring as it is, our garden fence absolutely had to be treated to a coat of something as there’s no way it would have lasted another winter (and I know how I can let a year slip by without achieving anything on the DIY front), so thanks to the beautiful weather on Saturday, out I went and did exactly that.

Good old Ronseal; it does exactly what it says on the tin.

It’s a bloody shame however, that the colour stated on the tin had no bearing whatsoever on its contents, with what I painted on being more of a sickly orange than medium oak! It did dry back to a dark terracotta though, giving the garden a wonderfully Moroccan edge.

The rain on Sunday kept us inside but thanks to a very long and drawn out game of snakes and ladders, four rounds of hangman and the original version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on TV (Gene Wilder was a very funny man, even in 1971), we were cosy rather than trapped.

Oh yes, forgot to mention the burgundy meatballs I made on Saturday night. Very tasty, incredibly rich, and the children enjoyed theirs on Sunday. I also made them spaghetti to have and afterwards I ditched the pasta saucepan in the sink to be left for the next morning.
(How decadent).

Now I know some people would ring their local news office claiming to have seen some religious face or religious scripture in the bottom of our saucepan, and I hate to be the one to break it to you but alas, it’s just the mark of the spaghetti.

Unless ….

Saturday, April 26, 2008

WHAT the … ????

Throughout the week I have been trying to keep my TV watching down to a minimum (well come on, it’s boring), but on a Thursday evening at 10pm, you can guarantee I will be slumped on the sofa getting my weekly dose of My Name Is Earl, which is by far the funniest thing on television at the moment.

It finishes, I get up to make my lunch for the next day and hang the washing (hey, it’s all go, go, go in our house, let me tell you!!). From the TV, I can hear an adult shouting and a child crying, saying “I don’t want to, I don’t want to”, so of course I come back in to see what the fuss is all about.

I can honestly say I could hardly believe what I was seeing (read here).

10 year old Thai (his name) and (one would imagine the similarly aged) Connor wearing full contact padding, locked inside a cage in a kick boxing competition.

It wasn’t so much the surprise at seeing such skinny youngsters punching and kicking each other; it was more the fact that the parents were standing pressed up against the metal cage screaming at their offspring to “punch ‘im, go on, knock ‘im out” and the like.

As is, there can be only one winner and this was also upsetting to watch. Not only was the loser upset at losing, but his face as his parents complained to the camera was uncomfortable to watch.

“Well, that other lad was f*&£ing cheating, he punched him in the face which is against the rules. That f*&$ing referee should be barred from the sport”.

All this wonderfully colourful vocabulary in front of their very upset 10 year old.

I’m not against contact sports. I’m not against teaching children self-defence or martial arts. But it was when the programme focussed on 5-year-old twins Miah and her brother Kian that my jaw dropped.

Miah clearly didn’t want to get into the ring, crying and visibly shaking, but “Dad Darren” was having none of it.

“What’s the matter with you now? Come on, get in the ring! Stop crying, come on”.

Apparently Miah loves “disco-dancing and dressing up as a princess”. Not all that surprising really – most 5-year-old girls love exactly the same things. Likewise her brother, for whom Dad’s hope for his son is “to win a stadium title” followed by, “I dunno what his dream is. Probably to play with his soldiers!”

Dear, dear me.

I got in trouble as a boy, be it at school or at home. If I’d had a choice, I would much rather have been told, “right, that’s it – you’re in trouble now. Go to your room” than hear the dreaded words, “I’m very disappointed in you”.


From your parents in particular???


But disappointment is exactly what Majhid (Dad to Sohan) had written all over his face just before his son lost his fight.

"Sohan is living the life I should have had", he says. "I have always wanted to be the best. I've always wanted to be a champ, wanted people to look at me and say there's the champ. But it's as good them saying it to my son as saying it to me."

What a clown!

Oh, by the way, following my gripe the other day about no-one bothering with St. George’s Day, I cooked the most English of meals; a roast dinner.

Check out those roast potatoes!

All washed down with a nice glass of red – marvellous!!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Another day, another damp squib!

Apparently, Moscow has more sculptures of St George slaying a dragon than any other city, with George even featuring on their coat of arms!

I think it’s wonderful that the Russian capital celebrates such an iconic English figure even if it appears that England didn’t bother to!

Or if they did, I didn’t see.

Happy St Geor ……ZZZZZ..zzzzzzz……

Monday, April 21, 2008

Cotton wool kids

During the summer of last year, a work colleague read a couple of articles on childhood (click here and here), turned to me and said, “yeah, parents worry too much nowadays. Kids should be allowed to just do their own thing, to go to the park alone and” and so on.

I politely reminded my colleague that she didn’t in fact have any children and that she had no idea what she was talking about.

Of course, to a certain degree, she was right; we do worry, all parents do.

But do we worry more now than parents of yester-year? According to one very interesting article by Carol Midgley (if you have 5 minutes, read it here), it would appear not; we just worry about different things.

Yes, I know the risk of someone snatching a child is very small but what parents wants their little darling to be that dreaded minority? Ok, apparently road accidents are far less common than they were in 1976 but again, who wants their child to become nothing more than a government statistic?

Not me.

I agree that it would be better to lighten up in places like playgrounds, to stop rushing forward yelling, “careful now, hold on tight, that’s it, swing your legs across, now come down the slide”, when your beloved is barely 5 feet off the ground.

Your actions seem to be justified though, because most other parents are doing exactly the same thing as you. But, as Midgley says, you have to let children get on with it, let them learn that if they hit the ground from 5 feet up, it will undoubtedly hurt and to hold on tighter next time. Bigger kids will push past them whether they are 6 years old or 16 years old; let them learn to either push back or step out of the way.

I know what she says is right but it is hard to sit and smile from across the playground when in your minds eye you are already picturing them slipping, falling, landing, bleeding, breaking and crying.

Kids are, if nothing else, resilient. They fall down, cry at their bloody leg or arm, wipe the tears and they want to get back to the game, to their friends, to get involved. It is us, the parents, who hold them back, worried at what the next fall might bring.

How many of us have shouted, “be more careful next time” at the back of our children as they run off, back to the fun?

Parenting is as much a learning curve as being a child. You hope and pray you get your approach to the job just right as the long term repercussions if you don’t are serious and far reaching.

A parent apparently said the other day that I was ‘too strict’ as a parent. Well, that may be so but again, it is down to the individual to ‘parent’ as he or she sees fit, not how others decide.

If you’ve had a turn at it, step aside – it’s my turn, whether I get it right or not.

And I think I’m doing ok.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Eat healthy, live longer

I don’t know about you but there are certain foods I eat that actually make me feel healthier as I eat it.

The best example of this is when I am eating Japanese food. It could be anything from sushi to unagi don but, when coupled with a bowl of steaming miso soup and a glass of lightly sparkling mineral water, I can almost feel my health improving.

Totally ridiculous I know, but it’s all about how it makes you feel and Japanese food does it for me.

Or at least it did until I bought some Japanese “fast food” the other day. I purchased a salmon and rice seaweed pouch with some wasabi peas.

Imagine my surprise while munching happily through them, when I read the list of ingredients (in tiny print) on the side of the pot.

In order, they are:

Green peas, starch, vegetable fat and oil, sugar, wheat flour, salt, powdered Japanese horseradish, seasoning, amino acid, baking powder, emulsifier: E473 & E471, propylene fatty acid ester, Sorbitan fatty acid ester, allyl isocyanate, colour: E102 & E133.


‘E’ numbers? In my wasabi peas?

‘Powdered Japanese horseradish’?



Moreish they may be but do you think you’ll catch me eating those again?

Yeah, probably!

Delicious little green beggars!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

And finally, monsieur, a wafer-thin mint!

One could argue that our long weekend (just gone) on the Isle of Wight, bears an uncanny resemblance to our week long trip there last July (see here) and, to a certain degree, you’d be right.

Yes, we re-visited a couple of the same places; primarily food related places but this was unavoidable, as their reputation demanded that you return.

The Crab and Lobster pub for a …. wait for it …. crab sandwich.

To Warren Farm for their incredible cream tea with scones, clotted cream and jam aplenty.

The Wight Mouse Inn for their flaked chicken and ham pie.

A new destination for food was the Ship Inn by the marina where we all had fresh cod in beer batter with chips, peas and tartar sauce, which was divine.

Other new non-food destinations consisted of Amazon World, Robin Hill adventure park and the chairlift at the Needles.

I could tell you all over again that you should visit the island. I could tell you that whether you have a young family or not, I promise you won’t be disappointed. I could tell you that the food alone is worth a trip across from Portsmouth.

I could.

But I won’t.

I will just let you look at some of my favourite shots from our 4 days there.

Please note; to see my pictures that you won’t necessarily see on these pages, either click on 'My Flickr' on the right hand side under links or click here

Click to enlarge

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Would I lie to you?

Joseph had another swimming lesson today with Cynthia, a rather butch and stocky Lithuanian girl who is very nice and a seemingly, very caring teacher.

Unfortunately she seemed either to forget that this was only Joseph’s second lesson or she expected him to pick up exactly where he had left off the week previous.

“That’s it, relax, put your arms out in front, let me pull your arms, and now, face in the water and …”

He stops and stands up, clearly having swallowed several gallons of chlorinated water and coughs good and proper, looking a little funny with his goggle elastic pushing his ears outwards (they were half full of water anyway) and standing there, looking over at me, expecting me to do something while he continued coughing.

I think it might have been fairer if she had reminded him of what he needed to do but, in the “learn things the hard way” school of thought, I doubt he will make the same mistake again.

What got me thinking though, was watching him being told to “turn over, lie on your back and keep kicking. Relax, rest your head and keep breathing”.

I could see he was struggling to relax and I didn’t blame him. Trust is something that you earn right? It’s not something that you just “have” with a stranger, especially when you are being asked to do something entirely new by the person who pretty much caused you to have a coughing fit, having swallowed half a swimming pool’s worth of funny tasting water.

He did eventually rest his head on her ample shoulder and proceeded to kick as requested so well done for that Poops.

Anyway, there will be plenty of opportunity to practice this weekend when we get to the Isle of Wight.

Ooh, by the way, just wanted to say well done to M for getting the new job she was after. She leaves her old job today.

Don’t worry love – you have totally made the right decision!

Enjoy your week off!!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Round and round

I do love seeing ‘youngsters’ strutting their stuff around town, thinking they look cool and original in their flared trousers, their Mohican hairstyle or their funky leg warmers. They think they look ‘new-wave, original, trend setting’.


Because let’s face it, there’s nothing you see that hasn’t been done or worn before. The early 70’s had their hippies and their flares, the mid-late 70’s had punk with their spiky hair and the early 80’s had Leroy from Fame who got pretty much the entire nation wearing leg warmers.

Of course, there is a world of difference between feeling young and actually being young. When I was a mature student, I worked at a North London school part time so I wouldn’t be absolutely penniless; I was about 27.

I mean, I feel young now but 12 years ago (blimey, is it honestly that long?), I REALLY felt young.

Not however, according to the students I worked with who ranged between 11 and 17 years old.

I am smiling as I type when I remember one student who must have been about 12, asking me my age and when I told him, responded with, “oh my god, that is OLD man”.

Cue much laughter from his peers.

And I guess to him, a 12 year old and all his friends, I was old. The fact that I didn’t feel it was neither here nor there. Being twice the age of someone automatically qualifies you as O.L.D.
Irrespective of how old I felt when I was at the school however, had no bearing on how I felt away from the school. In fact, I would say that being 27 is pretty ok.

None of that teenage angst to contend with, you’re doing things you actually want to be doing (or at least have chosen to do), you are happy with who you are and so on.

And, for a while, you unknowingly walk the fine line between the two camps; young and old, until, one day, you sense the shift, the slight change whereby you have teetered for long enough and slipped, ever so gently into the jaws of (that dreaded term) middle age.


Middle age? Don’t be ridiculous, I’m only in my late thirties!

Yes? What age did you think the term “middle age” applies to?

I never gave it much thought.

50 maybe?


Well, stone me, you are right.

I. Am. Middle. Aged.


I sure don’t feel any different. Sure, as I’ve mentioned in the past I’ve got a few grey hairs, lost a few others but…… but what?

I just never noticed leaving my youth behind.

That doesn’t mean it hasn’t gone.

No. No I guess it doesn’t.


Anyway, Joseph and I are going to the barber’s on Thursday to get a funky haircut, then into the retro clothes shop for some bell bottoms.


Friday, April 04, 2008

Get your diaries out for May the 5th

Got that?

May the 5th.

That’s the date when voting will begin for the Best Of Blog awards and it will be up to YOU, oh faithful reader, to nominate me.

And don’t worry – I’ll remind you closer to the time.

And probably half a dozen times between too.


It’s exciting dammit…..

Click to enlarge

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A candy bar, a falling star, or a reading of Dr Seuss

There are two very obvious ways to approach fancy dress.

One: you can go to the shops and buy an outfit which closely resembles who or what it is you want to be or,

Two: You can buy some material, settle down with some needle and thread and get busy.

Now I have always thought that option 'one' is a bit of a cop out. Surely part of the fun is making something from scratch, no?

Well, whatever your view, Joseph announced that “next Friday we have to dress up as a character from a book. NO super heroes allowed!”

And, after Joseph and M had decided between them what he wanted to be, off we went to the market for some thick red material, some white material, some tape for sticking said material together, a cats tail (not a real one) and a black top, after which we headed home to get started.

Ooh, that was after Joseph dug out his St. Patrick's Day hat to be heavily disguised.

Long story short, with my needle and thread wizardry and M’s patience, we soon knocked up a very respectable head garment.

(I say “soon”, but it took 3 evenings!!)

Dress rehearsal time and we were all rather pleased with our work.

Come the morning for outfit to be worn, Joseph pulls it all on, M applies appropriate make up and, aside from the pouring rain smudging it a little, he apparently looked spot on – I’d left for work.

Luckily, I collected him from school and as he came out towards me, he was beaming all over his (smudged) face and carrying aloft a small card.

“A £5 voucher” I said, looking down at him. “What’s this for?”

He said nothing but shoved the card into my hand, still smiling, hat slightly skew.

I looked up at his teacher (who, incidentally was dressed as the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz), and shook my head, slightly confused at the gift card.

“He won 1st prize”, she said helpfully, “for having the best costume of the day”.

Now at certain times of their day, the children are left to draw a picture and write about it themselves, with no help or guidance. The idea is to build their confidence in tackling writing sentences on how they sound, rather than how they are spelt. The work is then marked on how much they tried rather than how accurate their spelling was and this is what happened after the excitement of not being in uniform had faded.

I am a huge fan of this technique, not least because it seems to be working very well.

Self portrait by Joseph

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Get out of town ….

Yeah, we did. Right out of town in fact. Down the M3, sat on the M25 and then numerous A roads all containing at least two number 3’s and we were there; our country bolt hole, otherwise known as the house belonging to our Wiltshire based chums.

We cleverly opted to drive to them on Friday evening rather than Saturday morning thus extending our time there. And, as expected, they took great care of us from the outset, with shepherd’s pie, vegetables and plenty of ale served up within an hour of arriving.

Saturday kicked off with a cooked breakfast (sweeeeeet) and then on with the wellies for our prerequisite hike through the picturesque villages that surround Wilton, keeping the 600 year old wall of Wilton House to our left and heading, most definitely for the Victoria and Albert.

Pub that is.

Not the museum.

We had planned to stay for an hour or so but, thanks to some perfectly timed heavy rain, we ended up spending nearly 3 hours firmly ensconced within arms reach of the bar, sat across the room from a hearty, roaring fire, ale flowing slowly but oh-so steadily, big bowls of chips with ketchup and plenty of domino playing going on.

While slightly disappointing, it is probably a very good thing that the pubs in this neck of the woods close at 2.30pm as the urge to stay put, looking out of the rain beaten windows was getting stronger with each sip.

Joseph and Annabel enjoyed themselves with our hosts not only teaching them dominoes but also showing them card tricks for about an hour, amazing them and us.

Would he divulge any of his secrets? No he would not, bloody show off!

An evening of food and drink followed (not to mention too much honey brandy if my churning head and stomach the next morning had anything to go by), as well as a Sunday stroll in the shadow of the impressive Salisbury Cathedral and a visit to a mutual friend to see their house with the amazing views.

I remember being young and my Dad wanting to look at houses, trying to dazzle us with information of how old this was or what year that was built but I don’t remember it ever quite sparking my interest.

Of course, the inevitability of us all turning into our parents (at least a little) is certainly valid in my case, especially where houses are concerned, not to mention lichen covered walls that surround stately homes. As last year, we visited our chums a week too early to actually visit Wilton House but I suppose that is quite lucky as it requires us to go back and impose on them again later in the year.

If we’re invited of course!