Come along for the ride!!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Decaffeinated anyone?

There are approximately a dozen or so other blogs and websites that I check on a daily basis, some of which I have alluded to in the past.

One which I have not mentioned is maintained by Jen, a photographer in Brooklyn, New York. There are very few words (almost none in fact) but the photographs speak for themselves.

At first I wasn’t sure what it was that I liked most about the site. Was it the pictures or the incredibly varied breakfasts that Jen sits down to each morning?

I finally decided that it was a bit of both and, just for fun, tried to recreate my own simple breakfast and take a snap of it.

It is a lot harder than you think.

See how a pro does it over at Simply Breakfast.

Friday, June 27, 2008

"Tell me, can you SEEEE the light!"

I remember our Dad taking us out in the car, the destination a secret, often so secret that we weren’t actually told we were going anywhere in particular; just “out” in the car.

Excitement would build as we got closer to somewhere familiar, usually the swimming baths at Surrey Quays or Laurie Grove, both in South East London, and that excitement would usually not be in vain.

The thing is, as my brother and I grew up, we (my mother included) would often chastise my Dad for not just telling us where it was he was taking us? Why not tell us, see how excited we were and then, when we got to the place, we’d be excited all over again? Buy one lot of thrills, get another one free!!

Well now I know.

Yesterday, after collecting Joseph from school, I told him we needed to take a short drive to see about getting a new tyre for the car (I know, I’m all about the rubber right now) and he was happy with this.

Half an hour later, this little job was done and we headed home.

Instead of thinking about our route, I made it nearly all the way home before turning to him in the car and saying, “hey, would you like to go to a shop to look at a new bicycle?”

Obviously, this required very little processing time on his part and he replied with an excited squeal.

(I think you can see where this going).

We sailed straight past our house, turned at the end of the street and, as we approached the important next turning, traffic stretched back for as far as the eye could see – literally!

“Ah, sorry my love, the traffic is terrible, we might have to leave it for another ti …..”

Without going into too much detail, I now understand why it was that my Dad would keep “treat destinations” a secret until the very last minute.

Rather a surprised and happy child than one having a fit and kicking your dashboard in!

Yes Siree bob!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

"I’m a midnight toker …."

Getting older shows no sign of easing Annabels’ stubborn streak and this is never more apparent than at bedtime.

As always, M and I go our slightly separate ways; me with Joseph and M with Annabel. Joseph reads me his school books, I read him a library book and then it’s lights out. He accepts this without question, usually because he is so tired. I give him a kiss, he enquires if “Mummy is coming to give me a kiss?” to which the answer is always, “of course she is” and that is that; you won’t hear from him again.

And now to Annabel.

She has gotten herself into a little routine which she finds hilarious, M puts up with and I see no humour in it at all (well, maybe a little).

Yeah, yeah, whatever, I’m a grumpy bugger, talk to the hand.

The routine goes something like this;

M reads her a story – usually one Annabel knows well – and, as M gets to the last page but one, Annabel announces that “I don’t like this one” and threatens to cry if she doesn’t get another.

(With me, she waits for the last page and then sticks her forefinger in the air and says, “just one more story, just one more, to which I say no, threat or no threat).

Yeah, yeah, talk to the hand again.

M reads another short story, goes to say goodnight and Missy says she needs the toilet. She gets to the toilet, sits down before announcing that she actually needs a poo, not a wee. This coincides with me coming OUT of Josephs’ bedroom and I walk past the bathroom door and peer in to see her face scrunched up with effort, trying desperately to shift something, anything to prolong her extra time awake.

Well, job done, back to bed and M has kissed her again and calls me, telling me that “Annabel wants her Daddy”. As always, I give her a kiss, asked if she had a nice day and make to leave her room. “Light game”, she says, more of an order than a request and, when this is complete, I say goodnight (again) and leave the room.

Anyway, she allows us both time to get to the bottom of the stairs – the bottom one’s creak – and mentally gives us about a minute before calling out.

And so, one of us (she usually sees who it is that enters her room before saying she wanted the other parent) goes up to see what she wants and it is at this point that she chooses from her ever increasing list of excuses and also exercises her very quick wit.

Her regularly used list reads something like this:

My knee is broken

My nail is ripped

Look, my shin is better (scab fell off two weeks ago)

Is Jou-Jou sleeping?

I’m hot /
I’m cold

She actually asks M to “tuck her in”, even when it’s 25 degrees outside, just so that she can later yell out “I’m hot”. I now say to her, “don’t forget, if you get hot, just take your arm out from under the covers and you will get cool”.

This is why she doesn’t often use this excuse anymore.

An absolute corker of an excuse which she only ever used once was when she called out for “Mama”. When M got there she called out for “Dada” too and when I got there, she looked around the room, trying to think of something to say and all she could think of was, “I wanna say goodnight to the toilet”.

This prompted a “you’ve got to be kidding” burst of laughter from me and a stern (but always patient) “that’s enough now” from M.

Missy burst into tears that we had seen right through it and, to her credit, has never bothered with that one again.

Let’s see what excuses tonight brings.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

“Polichinelle, polichinelle ….”

On Saturday, Joseph was telling us all how he found a ladybird in the school playground but the interesting thing about this ladybird, were its’ “funny colours”.

Apparently, instead of being red with several black dots, it was orange with just a couple of dots. This sounded quite cool (as far as ladybirds go, that is) and, as if to prove his point, one such ladybird flew silently and delicately through our French doors and landed on our dresser.

This tiny insect brings out this instinct in me to want to have it crawl onto my hand, obviously with the sole intention for me to tell it that its’ home is on fire and all its children are gone which, on reflection, is a bit cruel.

Anyway, I gathered it up, marvelled at its colours before allowing Joseph and Annabel a turn at having it run about on their hands, before blowing it into the garden.

We forgot about it.

Until yesterday that is.

M was telling us about a report she’d read, informing the reader of the “aggressive, invasive cannibal that is the harlequin ladybird”. Apparently it eats weaker ladybirds and aphids, but will even “munch on people at a push” if they have not had a decent meal that day.

Joseph was listening to this intently and, with a very matter of fact look on his face and a thumb cocked to indicate ‘yesterday’, said, “well it’s a good job that one we picked up had eaten a good meal then”.

All said with a completely straight face and without a hint of humour as always, reduces me a laughing heap. The knock on effect of him making me roar like this is he immediately joins in, which in turn has Missy diving on top of him, on top of me and invariably a stray knee or foot finds my delicate parts.

End laughter immediately.

Great while it lasts though.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dullest blog entry in history

Yes I know it’s dull. I fully appreciate that todays picture holds no interest for …. well, anyone, but seeing as my commuter bike is responsible for at least half of this blogs' name, I feel it only fair to make reference to it, however occasionally.

And, taking into account that I paid £125 (and 50p) for a back tyre, I am damn well posting a picture of it!!!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

“He’s got the key of the door ..…”

I can remember the day of my 21st birthday very, very clearly.

I was Head Waiter at an American restaurant in London and my birthday, the 8th of March, fell on an evening on which I was working.

This sounds like a drag but work at the restaurant was good fun. People, laughter, free food, free drink and amazing tips; what was not to like?

I also remember that a regular customer and his party of friends bought me a bottle of champagne – a decent one too – and presented me with it at the end of service.

It was a good night.

That was several (?) years ago after I had just come back from 18 months on Rhodes island, Greece.

During my time there, I learnt as much Greek as possible for one very good reason; it showed that I was trying in a “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” fashion. It also distinguished me from other English people there. I mean, let’s face it; the English (when abroad at least), do not have the best reputation in the world;

And, looking from the outside in, I could see the locals’ point.

One area in which I am immensely proud to be British however is our ability to lay on a good breakfast. I love croissants as much as the next man and fresh orange juice is a pre-requisite to a good breakfast but can you honestly beat sausages, bacon, eggs and beans?

Can you beat fresh crusty bread with butter, brown sauce on the side and a fresh pot of tea?

Can you?

Frankly, no.

A cooked English brekkie rules the waves (as Queen Victoria might have said) and today I cooked one such breakfast, obviously bearing in mind the plight of the British farmer (and the British pig) and purchased only British pork.

Sausages, bacon, beans, plum tomatoes, hash browns, fresh crusty bread AND seeded granary, Lurpak spreadable AND Anchor butter, HP sauce and of course, a steaming hot cup of tea. If I am honest, it could have been made just slightly more amazing had I included a couple of large fried eggs but with M being allergic to eggs and the children not caring much for them, it was easier to skip their inclusion.

Everyone agreed it was delicious and proved it by clearing their plate, which I took as a compliment.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Man from Atlantis

An old conversation in our house once went like this:

M: “Oh, it’s so sad they grow up isn’t it? They’re so sweet at this stage”

Me: “Yes they’re sweet but no, it isn’t sad. You don’t want them to stay small their whole lives do you? You want to watch them grow, leave school, make lives for themselves” and so on.

However, as always, M speaketh sense and I speaketh nonsense.

I mean, I was right in what I said about wanting them to grow and move on to great things but M was right when she said it was sad; it is sad. Certain achievements attained and certain situations overcome only ever happen once. Joseph undoing his first button, sneaking a look at Annabel reading to herself in her bedroom for example, you can only get the real magic from seeing it once. After that, it isn’t new anymore.

I must say that I will truly miss where we’re at right now, with both of them doing so well for their respective ages. Missy fiercely independent, Joseph becoming ever more confident. They grow up fast.

The scary thing is that, as I’ve said before, according to both M’s parents and mine, the worrying started the day you find out you’re going to become a parent and the worry will continue to the day you pack your bags for the big hotel in the sky. I’m (very) nearly into my 4th decade and my parents tell me they still worry about me; likewise with M.

It’s almost a prison sentence!

You don’t know what a stressful ride you’re in for until it’s too late to do anything about!!!

Tonight I did my usual thing of taking them both to the toilet before sitting down to type (the children that is, not my parents!) and I get a surprise with both of them.

I turn on the light on the landing, tip-toe into Annabels’ room (which I never thought I would be able to do) just in time to see her smiling in her sleep, a big ear to ear grin on her sleeping face. I take a step nearer and she lets out a chuckle before laughing out loud.

It’s all I can do to stop from laughing myself.

As always, I stand her in front of the toilet before lifting her up onto the loo and she leans into me like a rag doll, arms lolling and swaying, clearly asleep on her feet. Carry her back to her bed and she looks so peaceful, so warm, so safe.

I take Joseph (who is much more difficult to lift up) to the loo and, although asleep, briefly opens his eyes and says, “it’s like I’ve just woken up in the morning”, before closing his eyes and drooping forward on the loo with only my shoulder stopping him falling flat on the floor.

Both incidents make me smile.

And they were firsts. It’s unlikely they will happen again or if they do, be as funny as they were this evening.

M and I agreed that parenting is the most rewarding, most tiring, most on-going “job” you ever sign up for in your life.

As tough as it gets, you wouldn’t want things any other way.

Ooh, by the way, talking of firsts, congratulations to Joseph on passing his Level 1 non-swimmer lesson. His instructor has said that he can bypass Level 2 and go straight into the beginners’ class.

Not bad at all for a boy who 10 weeks ago didn’t like getting water on his face.

Good for you Poops, good for you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"Friends, Romans, countrymen ....."

Unbelievably, hundreds and hundreds of people have asked me for the recipe for the coconut ice made by my own fair hand at the weekend. Well, I say hundreds, it’s more sort of, 5 ….. but the number is irrelevant. What matters is that people thought it was very tasty, albeit people with a very sweet tooth. Here you go.

300 grams desiccated coconut.
300 grams icing sugar - sifted (this is quite good fun - well, I thought it was fun but I only get out very occasionally!!)
405 gram can of condensed milk
4 to 5 drops of vanilla extract
2 to 3 drops of red food colouring.

Mix all the ingredients together EXCEPT the colouring. When it is well mixed, put half into a container/tray that will give you about a half inch covering of the white mixture and press flat with a spoon.

Add the colouring to remaining mixture and mix well until it is all pink.

Note: I put the 3 drops of red colouring in and thought, "that aint never gonna be enough" and added more without even stirring it in. Wrong! ONLY put the 3 drops in - it WILL be enough and it will make the finished product pale pink (lovely) instead of dark pink (not so lovely).

Cover the white mixture with the pink mixture and press flat with spoon.

The recipe said "refrigerate for at least 5 hours. Ideally overnight to give a crumbly texture".

The next morning, remove from fridge, sample the coconut ice repeatedly until you feel slightly sick, divide the remainder into two boxes, take one to work for colleagues and present the other as a gift for a loved one, thus scoring brownie points.

The end

Sunday, June 15, 2008

High Frequency Deflection

Or HFD for short.

Other “official” acronyms you could choose from are High Fat Diet, Heat Flux Dropout, Honolulu Fire department or Home For Dinner.

My family today were wishing me an HFD all of my own today as did I with my own Dad.

Yes, of course, today was Fathers Day and a Happy one at that. My Pops seemed happy with my gift of a book and an Edward Monkton card entitled "The Wonderful Dad", but absolutely delighted with his glass jar of Coconut Ice, handmade by yours truly (even if I did add too much red food colouring which rendered the finished product white and dark pink as opposed to the usual pale pink).

I’m kicking myself though because I completely forgot to take a picture of it for your viewing pleasure. It looked bloody good too, even if I do say so myself. Still, I guess that’s all the more reason to make some more in the not too distant future.

We ate at a recently refurbished gastro-pub, which was superb. M and I continued our love affair with oysters, followed by roast beef and wonderfully crispy Yorkshire puddings.

And for dessert?

Coconut Ice of course, at our place with tea and coffee.

My own gifts of the day were a huge card and (rather wonderfully), a fantastic bottle of Tempranillo rioja and, completing the ‘lush image’, a ne’er before tried bottle of Sloe Gin which, after getting the children into bed and tidying up, I was happy to collapse onto the sofa and sample extensively accompanying a delicious meze.

I would like to report that Sloe Gin, simply poured over ice, is as delicious as it looks and smells (which, by the way, is nothing like regular Gin, in case you’re wondering).

All in all, a terrific Fathers Day enjoyed by all involved.

Thanks as always to the generous and thoughtful M.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Now versus then

Were things better in the past? Were the 50’s and 60’s better than the 80’s, 90’s and the 00’s?

I can’t answer that because, contrary to what some people say about my age, I wasn’t around in the 60’s. All I know on a personal level of my very early childhood lives on some much revered 35mm cine-film stored safely away in my Dads’ cupboard.

It’s a bit sad to be honest.

We occasionally gather at my parents’ house to watch my brother and me run up and down our old garden in what must be 1975 onwards or thereabouts, followed by projector slides for the years that followed.

I know what you’re thinking; “projector film and slides. What a riot of an evening that must be”.

You’d be wrong though.

It is the epitome of a walk down memory lane and invariably involves much laughter.

The thing is, I can take a picture of my children, download it to my PC and e-mail it off to my parents within 5 minutes, they can print it out and stick it in a frame within another 5 minutes, job done.

The difference in accessibility to your memories between this generation and our parents’ is vast.

It’s wonderful for us (as parents) and it’s wonderful for our parents too.

I sometimes think however, what impact it has on our young children? Not impact in a negative way, but what difference will it make to their lives that they are able to access images and sounds instantaneously.

I mean, even I am impressed when I can take a picture or movie of my kids and immediately turn the camera to show them themselves in playback.

I watch their face as they watch.

Of course, they smile at their own images.

“That’s me”, they used to say, astonished at seeing someone who looked just like them in a 2-inch square screen on the back of a tiny silver box.

But even now, even for a 5 year old and a 3 year old, seeing themselves the second after they have been captured on film is ‘old hat’, it’s too obvious to be impressed by.

I wonder what they’ll make of the early images of their Dad?

They’ll probably find it all terribly amusing in much the same way as when I used to watch a Harold Lloyd film, the picture flickering before my eyes, everything seemingly speeded up.

On the other hand you have my parents who, while they have done an admirable job in meeting the digital revolution head on, still seem gob-smacked at the time scale between taking a “photograph” or movie and watching it in playback or, as mentioned, receiving it in their e-mail inboxes.

If you are reading this, then you don’t need me to tell you that I can post a picture here and someone browsing the inter-web thingy-majig on the other side of the world can see it at the same time as someone next door.

Yeah, like I said, I don’t need to tell you all of this.

M says to me, “but we never print any of our pictures out. They just sit on the computer with no-one able to look at them”.

Yes, I reply, but look in that big box in our room full of old 35mm camera prints. No-one can look at them either – what’s the difference?

I remember a primary school day out to our local Fire Station when we were allowed to look around the engines, climb over them and generally be a nuisance. But the memory of that is all in my mind; fairly clear, albeit from 25-ish years ago.

Nothing else would be able to remind me of that day.

For Joseph and Annabel (who went to a party at a fire station this afternoon), I have a dozen shots of them shooting water hoses, trying on fireman hats and “driving” the fire trucks.

The thing is, will their memories serve them as well as mine has, considering I had less physical ‘memory markers’?


‘ course they will.

I’m just talking rubbish.


Monday, June 09, 2008

Spot the alliteration competition!

What prompted this entry is books. Well, books and libraries which, as is usually the case on these pages, have stirred a long forgotten memory.

If you like reading, having children is extremely handy because you get to read to them every single night. I love reading and have done for as long as I can remember. I used to spend entire days at our local library; not only was it a library but it also had a swing park behind it so for an 11 year old bookworm on summer holidays it was perfect.

I can picture the table I always sat at to read the books I had chosen; I would usually chose Tin Tin or an Asterix and Obelix tale and I clearly recall how exciting it was to turn the pages of an unknown adventure. And if I couldn’t finish the story there and then I would take it home to carry on reading.

The nice thing is watching how much Joseph and Annabel love books too; let’s face it, it’s always nice when something you like is also liked by your children. When reading stories at bedtime though, I sometimes forget to slow my pace down for whoever it is I’m reading for. Of course, if I’m reading to Annabel, she is very quick to clasp a hand over the pages to stop me turning to the next page, but Joseph is more passive, allowing me to turn the pages at my desired speed. The reason I mention it however, is because when he reads his school books to me, he often turns the page and studies the picture before going ahead with the text, sometimes for several minutes at a time. If he ever struggles with a word, he will refer to the picture to try and glean a clue on how to continue.

More and more, as we’re driving along in the car, Joseph will suddenly speak some seemingly random words. I turn to look at him, follow his gaze out of the window and realise he’s reading the name of a shop or an advertising board.

He looks pleased with himself.

And rightly so.

I say to him, “isn’t is exciting Poops? Isn’t it exciting that you’re learning to read and you can see words everywhere?”

I tell him, “the words have always been there. It’s just that you never knew what they were, what they meant. And now you do!”

I think he appreciates the gravity of it.

What’s wonderful is that Annabel is just as keen on reading. In fact, thinking about it, she has more imagination that her big brother does. When she does her disappearing trick and if you can sneak up the stairs quietly enough, you will usually find her sat on the floor of her bedroom with a pile of books next to her, flicking through a story book, narrating what is happening.

The clever thing is that she will often remember a story word for word after being told it just once.

Am I gushing?


Books are cool.

Go and read one.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Family kitchen

You don’t need me to tell you that in recent years, there has been an explosion of cookery programmes telling us how to eat this or prepare that.

Without naming names, there are chefs that seem patient and thoughtful, more famously there are chefs that swear and belittle, not forgetting ‘chefs’ who seem more worried about pouting to camera and sucking cream off the end of a perfectly manicured finger (raymonblancgordonramsaynigellalawson).

I have to say that I do like the majority of these programmes; I like food.

A relative newcomer, for me at least, is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall with his River Cottage and his campaign against cheap chickens. This campaign has made a big impact on our household, moving well away from eating mass produced two-for-a-fiver chickens several times a week and back to eating free range, organic chicken once a week, if not less.

I say “back to” because growing up, I can remember we had chicken on a Sunday; it was a bigger deal. My memory may be serving me badly and I may be seeing things through a pair of misty, overly idealised spectacles, but things seemed to work along the ‘less is more’ theme.

There’s no doubt that food prices have been steadily falling over the past 25 years and relative to wages, things were more expensive in the 1970’s.

Something my Dad would whole-heartedly agree with!

One thing that hasn’t changed however is the importance we attach to eating together as a family.

It didn’t matter what we were doing as boys; it didn’t matter if my Dad was working under his car or mowing the lawn; it wouldn’t matter if we had all been arguing five minutes beforehand; Mum would call out that “dinner’s ready” and we would slowly converge from wherever and take our “usual” places at the table.

If we had been arguing then conversation would be stilted and minimal but, more often than not, mealtimes were a time for talking and laughing. At the risk of sounding all cosy and rosy, we often found ourselves still sat at the table several hours later, bringing each other up to date with our lives outside the family walls.

What I think played a part was the fact that our Dad knocked through the wall joining our kitchen and dining room so that the cooking and eating flowed nicely together. And, like all good scenarios from your memory banks, when you have children of your own, you try to emulate those same situations; try to instil those same happy memories in them (hence us knocking the wall down in our own house and making the kitchen and dining area one space).

Yep, meal times are a pretty important time, in my book at any rate.

“But Dad, I’m watching Power Rangers!!!!” Joseph screams.

“I don’t want to, I wanna play”, echoes Annabel.

M and I won’t budge on this. We get their (almost) undivided attention, to hear about their school day, who did what to who at nursery and just a general update on their fast changing, growing-up-quick-lives.

They might not be thanking me now but I’m pretty confident they’ll appreciate it in years to come.

I do.