Come along for the ride!!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Eid Mubarak!

Today was our staff “away day” which means that we are given a half day to do whatever we like with a view to “deciding on the future of our department and where we are heading”.

Taking into account that the project we are working on is coming to a close at the end of the year, we thought we might make better use of a free day by going ten-pin bowling (in Bloomsbury) followed by a nice meal afterwards.

We didn’t end up eating until quite late in the afternoon (at the excellent Turkish restaurant Efe’s on Great Titchfield St), so when I arrived home and M asked me if I wanted some dinner, I put my hands to my stomach, grimaced and said that I was still too full to eat anything.

An hour or so later, M reminded me to take across our Eid gift to our neighbours, consisting of sweets and pastries. This I duly did and was invited in, as I am whenever I take across gifts. They then proceeded to insist that I stay for something to eat and, no matter how many times I repeated my “full stomach” routine, they insisted.

“Thank you very much”, I winced, as I was handed a tray consisting of chicken and lamb chops with a huge mound of rice, a chocolate cake with cream and a glass of coke.

When I staggered in 50 minutes later, M laughed, saying she’d figured out what had happened.

Next year it’s her turn to take the food across!

Unless I miss lunch that day of course!!

Monday, September 29, 2008

“They do do that though, don’t they though!”

Up until Wednesday evening, M and I were both heading for Liverpool for an ex-work colleague’s wedding. But, although Annabel has done a valiant job of switching nurseries recently, she has become a little clingy and behaving slightly out of character.

M suddenly announced, “I can’t go to Liverpool!! Annabel will want at least one of us here at the end of her first full week”.

M, as always, speaketh sense and so I headed up there without her.

Nice day, nice ceremony, nice food and, importantly, nice weather.

Two things to mention.

Firstly, if you’re going to Liverpool and you need somewhere smart but very affordable, try Cocoon at the International Inn. It actually advertises itself as a backpacker’s hostel but it has rooms which are very smart, very comfortable and very private. All this and it only costs £53 per night which is pretty darned good, judging by the other prices I encountered when researching where to stay. They have apartments too so, if you’re a family or group of friends, you can stay together for an extra tenner a night!

Secondly, whether you like a drink or not, check out the Philharmonic Dining rooms, apparently a favourite haunt of one of Liverpool’s favourite son’s, John Lennon. It is a Grade 1 listed building meaning it is a building of outstanding architectural or historical interest. Not only is the building itself listed but the gent’s toilets are also Grade 1 listed. Women are allowed to look round the toilets “only as part of a guided tour”. This didn't stop all and sundry peeping their head's round the door when they felt like it though!

Grand they are; smell free they are not!

Anyway, apart from all that, being away for a weekend without your family isn’t much fun. I mean, that’s what weekend’s are for no? To be with your family?

Apparently, when I wasn’t home on Saturday evening, the children asked when I was coming home from work.

When they woke up Sunday morning and I wasn’t in bed when they came into our room, Joseph said, “what, Dad is still at work??”

Posh loo’s or not, I won’t be doing that again!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Everything? Lost?

A while back, I was telling a colleague at work about a song I had heard on the radio the day before. Naturally, I was making a very bad attempt at humming the tune.

"Nope, I don’t know what song it is”, she said, exasperated.

I was about to give up when another work colleague came into the room and I asked if she knew the song that “went something like this …” (hummed tune again).

As quick as a flash she replied, “yeah, it’s Michael Bublé. He sings middle of the road tat for old people”.

At this, myself and the woman I had initially been trying to explain to burst into laughter; but for very different reasons.

She laughed because only two minutes previous, I had been saying how much I liked his voice coupled with me being the more senior (not by much, not by much) in my team.

I think I laughed out of being a bit embarrassed.

As you do.

(Hey, what kind of a dull world would it be if we all liked the same music eh?)

Anyhow, to be honest I largely forgot the song I had heard and liked so much that evening.

Until today.

The day of my Uncle’s funeral.

This beautiful song (as far as I’m concerned) floated through the speakers at the crematorium as the curtains closed in front of my Uncle Tony’s coffin. I think I cried not only because I think the song is a poignant one but also because I had been asked to do a reading (of this) at the church and I was feeling more than a little anxious.

In fact, I can’t remember the last time I was so nervous at the thought of doing something as seemingly easy as reading from a piece of paper.

As much as my stomach was churning however, I kept telling myself, “do it for your Uncle”.

This thought helped, but I was still nervous.

Then I tried, "do it for your cousin, Tony’s son”.

Yep, better, but I’m still nervous.

"Do it for your own Dad then, Tony’s brother, come on man, get it together!”

Ok, better still, but boy, nowhere near as much as I had hoped – my stomach was doing somersaults.

As it happens, I managed to read it to the end.


I struggled at times, but I did it.

And I’m so glad I did it.

I’m glad I read it for the people above as well as for me.

I don’t think I will ever forget the look on my cousin Tony's face as he looked across at me, the service already started and his eyes red from crying; he simply mouthed the words “Ready?”

I think so ….


I’m ready.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The bionic woman

And so, after M and I spent our respective days fretting and worrying about how Annabel would cope with her first full day of breakfast club, the walk to school plus the full day at school after that.

“Poor bunny”, M would say. “She’ll be so tired”.

“I know, I know”, I sympathised, promising to “collect her and make a fuss of her at home”.

So I was more than a little surprised when I did collect her as she came running at me full pelt and jumped into my arms, wriggling to be put down again almost immediately before dashing off for her water bottle and marching out of the classroom.

She proceeded to tell me about her day as we waited patiently for her brother to come out of his classroom, who then announced that he wanted to go to the Common to fly his plane, one of his many toys from Friday evening.

We went home, got changed, grabbed the plane and headed for the Common.

In my wisdom, I thought the edge of the car park would be a good place to charge and fly a small plastic plane and clearly, as with many things in my life, I hadn’t thought it through very well.

I charged it, I threw it and the wind took it in a big looping circle, skimming the tops of the parked cars, over to the grassy area, back into the car park before BANG, a big blue van very helpfully brought it’s maiden flight to an end, much to the children’s delight.

(Why do kids love it when grown ups do something “naughty”?)

I suggested we move to open space for our next flight.

If I was slightly surprised at Annabel earlier, then it with amazement as I watched her sprint around the open space of our local common, trying desperately to catch the plane and showing no signs of slowing up.

Of course, the energy levels never last and as the wind picked up, we went home for snacks, homework and TV.

But not necessarily in that order.

Get yourself an Air Hog. They’re pretty cool.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

"It's party time in London"

I was going to take a picture of the obscenely huge pile of presents that Joseph received on Friday night as his guests filtered into his party at his favourite venue.

The evening was a joint venture between him and his closest pal whose birthday is a couple of weeks earlier than his. So actually, what I should have done was taken a picture of the two obscenely huge piles of presents that awaited the celebrating pair when their friend’s had filtered out, cheeks rosy and with sweaty hair matted to their foreheads; the marks of a good evening’s entertainment.

If you’re 6 years old that is.

Actually, scratch that; I had many a terrific evening which was gauged by how rosy my cheeks were and how sweaty my hair was and that was in my 20's!

But I digress …..

The venue was a ‘soft play’ centre and thanks to a few extra pounds, we had exclusive use of it which made a big difference to the kid’s enjoyment. We’ve been to the place before and believe me, the amount of tears that usually takes place is significant. Yes, yes, I know that our little cherubs have got to get used to mixing it with older kids, and they either do it at a place like this or they do it at the swing park, or the school playground etc but the one place you definitely don’t want them having a hard time is at their own birthday party. And apart from the padding around the climbing frames and slides, there really isn’t much that is “soft” about this play centre.

At least on Friday they only had others of the same age to contend with and that was ok by us.

I think in total there were just over 30 children which is gonna make for one big headache trying to find a new home for all his new, oversized toys.

This weekend also found the carpenter at our place for (another) two days with me offering my invaluable assistance and, as boring as it is spending a weekend doing DIY, “we” did get the cupboards finished which was great. The downside to assisting a carpenter working on your bespoke cupboards is that you don’t get to play with your children, one of whom had just taken delivery of half of all the toys in the store.

I did feel pretty mean.

Every time I walked past him, he said, “can you play with me Dad?”

“Not just yet Poops, when the carpenter has gone”,

which turned into;

“Has he gone yet Dad?”.

"No Poops, not yet, nearly though".

As a casual observer, I would have to say the most, how shall I say, unusual present he received, was a garden bird feeder.

“We thought we would get him something a little bit different”, the mother bearing the gift said to me.

"Er, thank you. It was certainly different".

(pic to follow)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Faw heez a jollee gud fell-oh

Need I say more?

6 years to the day and looking more handsome and grown up than ever!

You could tell something different was happening because normally when Joseph comes in from school, he wants to start eating immediately, preferably in front of the television, claiming to have had a busy day and that he is too tired to do anything else!!

Today however, without wasting time even to change out of school uniform, it was time to play with his presents. In fact, guests came and went and he barely looked up.

(Well, the one’s who were carrying big boxes covered in wrapping paper earned a brief smile and mumbled thank you, as you might expect).

Transformers, Power Rangers, Ben 10 merchandise (no, I haven’t got a clue either) and a (very cool) Speed Racer car. I have already been asked several times “which one d’you want to be Dad?” this morning but of course, when I choose the shiny new Transformer, the offer is retracted and commuted to, “do you want this (old Transformer) one?”

Lesson to be learnt here? Just take the old one in the first place of course!

Tonight we are setting up and playing Marble Run which, I must admit, looks pretty impressive. 12 kilometres (maybe a little less) of thin track with circles, straights, hills and drops, all for the pleasure of watching …. you've guessed it … a small marble to go whizzing from one end to the other.

Thursday evening, here I come!

Happy birthday Poops – thank you for being a smashing son this past year!

Monday, September 15, 2008

We have a winner!

I haven’t had a full report yet but apparently Annabel had a terrific first day at the nursery of her new school.

Well, I say “day” but it was more of a morning.

Well, two and a quarter hours to be precise!

By all accounts and purposes however, they were a busy and exciting two hours.

When M called me after she had collected her, Annabel wanted to inform me that she had painted a rainbow and seen her own coat peg with her photograph on, although no-one wanted to play in home corner with her.


I thought I would show you a drawing of us all from nearly a year ago. I am sure I will have a more up to date “family shot” of us all at some point this week.

Well done on getting through your first morning Missy; we’re very proud of you!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Last day at nursery - forever!


Oh lummee, it is too.

It’s Annabel’s last day at nursery and she is not quite her normal self. She knows something is about to change; we’ve all been speaking about it, but she hasn’t really grasped quite what.

As you will have grown accustomed to by now, any opportunity that comes along allowing me to write a little ditty and away I go. I’ve edited out the nursery name and location but otherwise it reads not too badly.

Enjoy your last day Missy!

So now, another child passes through your nursery.
I’ve been here quite a while now, approaching my 3rd anniversary

But like my brother Jou-Jou, I’m off to join my big school. I really hope the food’s as good ‘cos Peter here is cool!

From baby room, Little Learners then up to Rainbow Room,
where today I find myself wearing my favourite fairy costume

I’ve had a really lovely time, and made a friend or two.
We’ve shared our bugs, had nappy rash, got chicken pox and flu

I’ve tried not to be naughty although I can be dictatorial. My Dad says I’m a Lion ‘cos I’m “oh-so territorial”

I try to share with others but heaven knows I find it tough.
I practice when we have visitors, offering all my favourite stuff

I must just take a minute to say some thank you’s (it’s essential);
to give credit to the people who have helped me reach my potential

If you’re missing from this list, don’t blame me for being dipsy
it’s my Dad who is responsible, he wrote this when he was tipsy.

There’s Lisa, Sarah, Salma, also Kelly (pause for air). A special mention goes to Shamsa who used to plait my hair.

There’s Shanay and Anna-Maria, last but not least, there is Shahida.
My parents think the three of them have been a 1st rate care provider

So to Richard and to Nadia, this is my last time through your door
but I carry with me memories of you all, of that be sure

Because you’ve all been wonderful, I am happy when we’re together
finger painting, cutting, sticking, playing outside in nice weather

I’ll be back before the New Year with a full progress report
so you can see the importance of your valuable support

With your help I’ve become a very happy, clever little gal
(albeit one with a scream that could burst your ear canal)

So bye-bye nursery, (name of) Road, my time with you was swell
I’ll think of you everyday, take care please

love Annabel

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Keep the faith

Over the months and years of my ramblings here, I have received e-mails, ‘phone calls and kind words from people – some of whom I know, some I don’t – saying how much they enjoy reading various posts.

Although I only really write here to serve as a personal reminder of things that happen in the past, I would be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling pretty chuffed at these random comments.

And, apart from also being very therapeutic, there is little else that I expect to get out of all of this.

So it was bloomin’ wonderful when I took a call from my cousin last night, saying how much he had enjoyed reading what I had written about his Dad and the way in which I would remember him (see previous post below).

Not only had he enjoyed reading it but he asked if I would consider reading out an abridged version of it in church on the day of the funeral.

Now, I am about as far from being what you would call a confident public speaker as you could possibly get, but the honour of being asked in the first place plus being involved in this sad but important day was too great to turn down, so I said yes.


And so, from a post about a life ending, to a post about preserving life for generations to come.

Through work, I am fortunate enough to be invited to see certain exhibitions and to hear certain speakers talk about a variety of topics. I say ‘fortunate’ because more often than not, they are actually interesting.

Yesterday's was one such talk.

Mark Edwards has been a photographer since the late 1960’s (apparently) and he gave a talk about a project that he started not so long ago. He gave a brief history before letting the photographs do the talking for him, with "A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall" by Bob Dylan playing loud throughout.

I won’t spoil it by trying to describe it too much. See for yourself here what it’s all about.

Even in the face of extreme hardship, the human spirit keep on shining through.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

“So, there’s an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman …..”

I can remember what our parents used to say to my brother and me as our car pulled up outside Pine House in South East London many, many years ago.

"Right you two, no playing up when it’s time to leave ok? You promise?”

My brother and I would nod agreeably, all the while itching to get out, for two reasons.

Firstly, we had been sat in the back seat all the way from home and wanted out of the car, but secondly (and more importantly), we were going to see our Uncle Tony and Auntie Maureen.

This was nothing other than a total treat and the excitement started before you even walked through their door. Our journey there would culminate with our Dad turning off the main road followed by a few lefts and rights and then all that was left was for him to find a parking space before the fun could begin.

Pine House was (and still is) situated on a kind of square, although it’s not a square; if you see what I mean. Anyway, I would recognise the terraced houses that lined the road and the anticipation would build. Our squeals of delight are probably what prompted the ‘end of visit’ warnings but I think our parents knew that leaving Pine House was never something my brother and I would consider doing quietly.

Out of the car, run across the green that ran around two sides of the block and it was a straight race to see who could press the button to call for the shiny, silver lift.

Shiny and silver makes the lift sound like a modern, smooth lift but nothing could have been further from the truth. I think the ‘call lift’ button was black or red plastic and it took all my 10/12/14 year old strength to push the damn thing in. Of course, you never knew if you would hear the lift gears and pulleys clunk into life when you pushed it in, my knuckle turning white with exertion.

Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. And you know what? It was more fun when it didn’t. Because my brother and I would have discovered that the lift was broken before my Mum and Dad had even reached the door to the flats so off we went like lunatics, crashing through the door which led to the stairs, to begin the climb up twelve half-flights of cold, hard, concrete steps.

Crash through another door, this time the one to a landing, but the lack of numbers on any of the levels often led to coming out at the wrong floor. The only way we knew was because their door was so distinctive. "Wrong one, wrong one, up another flight", I would shout, now trailing my brother as I had initially been leading.

Up another flight – yep, this is the 6th floor, run along the landing, looking out to the right at the twinkling lights of London town as dusk crept over the city and rat-a-tat-tat on the door.

Auntie Maureen would open the door, we would shout our hello’s and run straight past her, into their living room where we would find our Uncle Tony, our Dads’ Big Brother.

Well, one of his big brothers at any rate.

Some of the things I remember from our trips there are;

Getting sweets and lemonade

Standing out on the balcony to the living room and looking through binoculars at the green below

Horse racing on the television and

The tropical fish tank

These are to name but a few superficial memories.

There are however, two distinct memories I have of our trips there. They are;

1. “Shooting” Uncle Tony in the teeth.

One of his front teeth was on a false plate and he would get me to hold a gun (I can’t remember if it was an actual gun or if I just cocked my fingers) and aim at his mouth. We would both shout ‘BANG’ and he would jump, put his hand to his mouth and palm the plate into his hand and then grin slowly, revealing a big gap where his tooth had been.

Of course, I learnt the trick eventually but I can honestly remember the first few times I did it, eyes widening in surprise, then fear, before turning my face into my Dad’s shoulder and crying.

Their laughter convinced me I hadn’t disfigured my own Uncle for life but I was fooled, initially at any rate.

2. The floating tray trick

This involved my brother and I taking it in turns to be blindfolded before standing on a small tray that had been placed on the floor, in the middle of the living room. My Dad and Tony would kneel down, take one side of the tray each and then slowly lift me just a few centimetres off the ground. They would wobble the tray slightly, all the while saying how high I was getting, how I was nearly touching the ceiling, wobbling more, making me unsteady, losing my balance, oh, mind your head on the light, duck a bit, oh no, you’re going to fall … watch out …. aaarrgghhhh ….

Of course, they never lifted me higher than a foot from the floor but it worked every time. My brother then delighted in the same trick being played on him, before I insisted on another turn, trying to remind myself that it was a trick but without success, fear still winning over common sense.

That was when we were younger.

As we got older, a trip to Pine House also meant we might get to go in the pub opposite (was it the Lord Nelson?) and play pool, maybe even get a sip of someone’s lager shandy!!

Older still and a trip there meant we could buy and drink our own beer, pay for our own game of pool.

Of course, time marches on and the visits that we had loved for so many years became less frequent. There were friends to see, girls to meet, other pubs to visit, clubs to go to.

It didn’t matter though.

We would all be sat around the dining table at home, eating, when the doorbell would go. Dad would answer the door and, knives and forks poised to hear who it was before we heard, “hello Tone, hello Maureen, come in, come in”.

Smiles broke out on our faces.

Do you know what this meant? It meant half an hour, maybe an hour, maybe two hours of laughter and silly stories. Because our time together would invariably revolve around stories of the past with a typical Tony twist, coupled with jokes that we had all saved to tell each other.

Uncle Tony loved telling jokes, almost as much as he liked being told them.

"Have you heard the new Jimmy Jones tape?" he would ask. Hearing that we hadn’t was his green light to reel off risqué joke after risqué joke.

Of course, our Dad doesn’t think much of swearing and cursing (much to his brother’s amusement) so Tony would tailor the joke as appropriate.


Depending on how mischievous he was feeling, he sometimes left the original obscenity in, just to see the look on my Dad’s face.

The best bit was when he would laugh halfway through telling his own joke, closing his eyes and exhaling for what seemed an age, everyone wondering if he was going catch his breath, before he composed himself saying, “sorry but I know the punch line already and it’s a corker!”

Of course, whenever we told him a joke, the reward was two-fold. Watching a grown man collapse into fits of laughter was one thing. The funniest part was when everyone else had moved on to discussing something totally different and Tony would suddenly burst into laughter again, remembering the punch line from 10 minutes earlier, finding it funny all over again.

I also used to laugh at the fact that we could all be sat at my parents, discussing nothing in particular, but if Tony was bored with the conversation, he would start whistling.

Just like that.

"I’m bored, so I’m gonna whistle over you all". A real “old school” whistle it was too, wobbling all over the place.

His laughter and take on life hid the fact that he hadn’t been well in the past.

He was a big man with a kind but troublesome heart.

He knew this of course, but never grumbled about it. Well, perhaps he did grumble about it, but if he did, he never did it in my company.

Perhaps it was because I knew he had a slightly dicky heart that had caused him problems, albeit 15 or so years ago, that I didn’t fall over with shock when my Dad told me on Sunday that Tony had been taken into hospital late last week and that they were heading over to see him after our lunch together.

As it turns out, they didn’t go until last night, which is probably a good thing as my Dad had been drinking red wine on Sunday, and who wants someone nodding off on them, especially when they’re one of your hospital visitors!!!

For some reason certain people in your lives seem invincible.

“Oh, so and so’s not well eh? Nah, don’t worry, he’ll be fine, you’ll see”.

As it turns out, my Uncle Tony wasn’t invincible and it was with slight disbelief that I read my brother’s e-mail earlier on today.

"Just to let you know that Uncle Tony passed away at 9am this morning".


Yeah, you could say that.


Yeah, that too.

I did what many people do in the face of bad news.

I read it. I read it again. I said “oh no”, out loud; my colleagues all turning round to look at me. I stood up, said "oh no" again, announced what had happened to everyone, then left the room to call M and inform her, before calling my Mum and Dad to find more of what had happened.

But to be honest, exactly what happened between the hours of 5am and 8am this morning is irrelevant, at least as far as my writing here is concerned.

All that’s important is the fact that my Uncle Tony is gone.

Our Uncle Tony is gone.

My Dad’s big brother.

My cousin’s Dad.

His children's grandfather.

I haven’t spoken to anyone else today so I don’t know how things will pan out but I don’t need to know that just yet.

I didn’t need to speak to anyone to know that the world, my world, is just a tiny shade gloomier than it was when I opened my eyes this morning.

And so it is that I find myself sat here at my desk at just gone 1am the following morning, with a half empty glass of rioja raised in his honour, drinking, thinking and attempting to put into words what my Uncle Tony meant to me.

Hopefully I will have conveyed some of that feeling.

If not, it doesn’t matter.

I know what I wanted to say.

And of course, everyone will be feeling sad over the coming weeks, months, perhaps years.

Me. My brother. My folks. Auntie Maureen. Cousin Tony. Big Tony's grandchildren. Everyone who knew him.

Everyone will be sad for a while.

Well, everyone bar one.

Everyone will be upset about Big Tony's passing except his youngest son David.

David who died well before his Dad, way back in 1995.

No, you can bet your sweet ass that David won’t be sad.

Because right now, as you're reading this, he’ll be telling his old Dad all the jokes that he’s been saving up for the past 13 and a bit years, thrilled to bits that they’re finally together again.

So, with tears rolling down my cheeks and onto my keyboard, I raise my glass and say goodnight and goodbye to my smashing Uncle Tony.

Until we meet again.

"Keep a careful watch over us all Tone won’t you?"

"Say, did I tell you the one about ……...…”