Come along for the ride!!

Friday, October 31, 2008


Well, my threat last year of handing out toothbrushes to any child that knocked on our door threatening “trick or treat” was just that; a threat.

And a boring one at that!!

(In my defence, I’m not all that sure I was being serious when I wrote that).

Anyway, it is the 31st of October, it is Hallowe’en and the children have been talking about nothing else this week other than decorating the house and going out in the dark to threaten people at their own front doors for sweets and goodies.

Missy was much braver than last years outing and got through the entire evening without any major upset; a couple of near misses but she did very well. It was a bitterly cold evening but they both refused to admit to being cold and on we marched until, eventually, Annabel said that we should head home. Joseph agreed to this only because I think he was having trouble seeing in the dark just how many sweets he had in his skeleton sweetie collector and wanted to get stuck in (and get stuck in he did).

The nice thing is that even when the cold gets the better of you and you head home, there is still the fun part to look forward to of the local children all dressed up, having put varying degrees of effort into their costumes, from “tried very hard” to “couldn’t be bothered at all and I just want the sweets”, but Joseph and Annabel had a great time.

On our travels, they were given some plastic fangs and these were quickly put into their mouths every time the doorbell went, in order to meet scary head-on with scary.

I think we managed a very menacing looking pumpkin this year; well done us!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

“But …… which is better?”

Ah yes, the immediately recognisable catchphrase from Harry Hill’s TV Burp. Well, recognisable if you actually like the programme and, I must admit, I find Harry Hill very funny indeed.

Many would disagree, but frankly, I couldn’t care less; I like him!

Right then, inappropriately defensive start out of the way, on with the show!!

The comparison I was going to make was between Ikea and Lidl’s (calm down you in the posh seats, calm down). Let’s face it; they both have “great gadgets” and gizmo’s and both stores will undoubtedly have something you either need, or need but don’t yet know you need…

(everyone say need)

.. but the thing that never fails to amaze me is this; both stores have items that are incredibly priced, right? With these great prices in mind, you amble round adding more and more to your trolley, telling yourself, “ooh, look at that, and it’s only £3.99. I think I’ll take two of those (gasp), look at that – seven pounds only? Definitely getting one of those ….”, and so on.

Of course, by the time you get to the till, you’ve spent over a hundred pounds and then it doesn’t seem like such a bargain.

errr …. that’s all I wanted to say.


Ooh, by the way; we had porridge this morning ‘cos it was so cold and we had it with English honey and some of our homemade strawberry jam made by yours truly.

Bloody good it was too, although Joseph did ask, "why do you have to take pictures of everything Dad?"

"Errmm...... "

Saturday, October 25, 2008

“It is written …..”

I was doing my usual thing of not being able to decide what to eat for lunch at work the other day and so found myself standing and staring at food menus. Working in a building that provides news and programmes in over 30 languages around the world, I am often stood listening to a conversation that makes no sense whatsoever.

On this occasion, the people I found myself listening to were Vietnamese, but the interesting thing was when someone they obviously knew came over and said something to them in English.

Without so much as stopping for breath, they spoke briefly to the friend in English, laughed, and then continued talking in their own language again, without pausing for breath.

This ability has always impressed me.

Yes, I know it’s just called being bi-lingual and yes, I know lots of people speak more than one language but it impresses me nevertheless. When we eat at my mother-in-laws for example, the conversation flits between English, French and Arabic, usually all in a single sentence.

I like it.

I like listening to it, and I like the fact that I can pick up different words and pretty much follow the conversation.

But let’s face it, following a conversation is nothing like actually speaking another language.

Joseph and Annabel are picking up on French quite well although I have always moaned at M for not speaking to them in French or Arabic more often. (Hey, if I wasn’t moaning at her for that it would be something else, believe me!!)

As obvious as it may sound, since marrying a Lebanese woman I have become hugely more interested in other cultures. Working where I do (not for much longer), has also opened me up to experiencing different ways of doing things.

It has made me far more aware.

For example, we were eating in one of our fave restaurants the other day and I was having a look around, as you do … (alright, yes, I was being nosey and checking out our fellow diners) and noticed a family to my left; Dad had dark hair but Mum and 3 children all had a shock of blonde, almost white, hair (think Boris Johnson and you’re half way there). I found it interesting how the colour of the guy’s hair had been completely ignored in the gene pool of their offspring.

(I admit, I find often entirely random things of interest).

Continuing my surveillance, I then noticed another family with a white, English Dad (we could hear him), his Chinese wife, joined by her parents and their young daughter, around 18 months old.

Lots of mixed race families, I thought.

Like my own.

I then looked at my family and smiled.

Yes, I think Joseph is very handsome and yes, I think Annabel is very pretty but looking at them (and M), I realised how much of my own genes were ignored. They have their mother’s thick, chestnut brown hair as well as her dark, dark brown eyes, almost black in fact.

Where am I going with this? Well, not for the first time, I have absolutely no idea but what I actually wanted to say was that I wish I had learnt to speak another language when I was younger. I managed to get a fairly good grounding in Spanish but, thanks to a prime time slot of being the class joker, I managed to get dropped from the “doing really well class” to the “don’t waste your time class”.

What a shame.

I learnt British Sign Language which technically is a language but not one I often have a chance of using.

I have also been on several ‘learn to speak French’ courses but apart from picking up some vocabulary – the same each time – I never manage to quite grasp the language itself.

Hey, maybe I should give up on French and try Arabic?

Yeah, I reckon that’s what I’ve been doing wrong.


Who knows, this time next year, I could be fluent.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

I am the Man!

It is just possible that I may have moaned just a teensy bit in recent months that I don’t want to be a part of the rat race anymore.

No, that doesn’t mean I’d rather be dead, it just means that I want off the repetitive treadmill of the working week. Don’t misunderstand, I can’t afford not to work but I just feel I want to do something that can offer me a different looking week.

My week currently looks like this:

Get out of bed, get dressed.

7.20am – the four of us pile into the car

7.30am – drop kids off at breakfast club and M at tube station

7.45am – arrive back home, get undressed, change into bike ‘gear’ and leave home by 8am latest.

8.30am – arrive at work, get undressed and into ‘normal’ clothes.

6pm - get undressed, don bike gear and ride home.

6.30pm – arrive home, get undressed and into my clothes.

11.30pm (ish) – get undressed and into bed

Actually, thinking about it, maybe it’s not the job that’s been getting up my nose over the years. Maybe it’s more to do with the number of times I have to get dressed and undressed in the course of a day!

Having thought (and thought, and thought) about what I could do to change this “hamster in a cage” feeling and I came to the conclusion that a job back in education would be the best option. Clearly not the best option from a “get rich quick” perspective but one which would benefit my sanity in the long term and give me the maximum time with my children.

I mean, my 20’s seemed to go by fairly quickly. My 30’s absolutely disappeared. If my 40’s are going to go the same way then I at least want to be there!!!

With this in mind, I took the liberty of booking myself in for 2 (read them, TWO) interviews today and by the end of the day had been told they would be delighted to have me working with them in the new year, at a school not a million miles away from where we live.

I kid you not!!

"Delighted", the very word she used.

Ah well, “you’re only human”, I said.

Except I didn’t really.

I just said thank you very much.

Hey, the money ain’t great but I get to have breakfast with my children every morning and we get to come home together every afternoon.

Can you put a price on that?

Nah, didn’t think so.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Clever, clever, clever ...

We oh-so very nearly missed it altogether. A small but not insignificant achievement by Annabel which warrants a cheer.

After all, I made a big enough fuss of Joseph when he managed the same thing over 2 and a half years ago.

“I did it!!” she cried, trying to get someone’s attention.

“I did it Dad”, she cried again, waiting for a response from me, someone, anyone. “I did my button!!”

Her tiny, beautiful face was lit up, clearly delighted she had managed to do up her first button.

I ran around the kitchen counter and over to where she was sat, hugging her and telling her how clever she was, obviously making her even more delighted.

And there lies the problem.

Technically I was “there” to share the experience with her. But I didn’t actually see her do it; I wasn’t sat in front of her, watching her little fingers struggling with the smallest buttons I’ve ever seen and managing to get one of them through a barely larger slot on her cardigan.

As you can read
here, when Joseph did the same thing, I was sat in front of him, could see how he managed the process from start to finish. With Annabel, I just caught the tail end of it.

It wasn’t like we were alone; M and Joseph were sat at the same table but were doing homework together, engrossed in reading a book, but I can remember she had to shout out twice before I looked up. To be honest, she will often shout out in a bid to get some attention away from Joseph, so initial calls are sometimes ignored. As it happens, I was in the kitchen filling a saucepan with some boiling water so couldn’t really look up straight away, but this is far from being the first time this kind of situation has arisen.

I’ve alluded to this before but before Annabel came along, M and I did absolutely everything together, from changing Joseph’s nappies, to bathing him, dressing him, feeding him - ok, M did 99% of the feeding (hey, nature planned it that way, don’t blame me!) - but even then, I was on hand to wind him when finished, to get this, get that, offer support and so on.

The 3 of us moved around the house as a single unit, from bedroom to bathroom, from living room to kitchen, from hallway to the front door.

And then, overnight, this changes.

Overnight, a new human arrives in your household and you immediately want to keep your happy-in-his-familiar-surroundings toddler apart from your new born, screaming-and-constantly-hungry baby, if only from a restful nights sleep point of view. Therefore, by default, one of you goes one way with child number one and the other with baby, usually (as was the case with us) Dad with toddler and Mum takes baby.

(On that note, I genuinely do not know how single parents manage but that’s a topic I know nothing about so will refrain from commenting).

So with child number one, you both experience the first time they did this, or the first time they did that but with child number two, you don’t. You can’t, simple as that.

Like I said, M was at the table when Missy undid her first button but her focus was on making sure Joseph was doing his reading correctly. Try as you might, you can’t keep swapping your attention from one to the other (no, you can’t), because the eldest gets to the age where he needs your attention rather than merely wanting your attention. He’s reading his homework book after all; it’s only fair that he has your attention. Things are busier too; you have more than one child to cook for, clean up after and so on.

Your children’s perception of things must be different too though. I mean, one of them had your undivided attention and the other often has to fight for it.

It’s quite sad really.

To think I always wanted to have three children!! I must’ve been mad!!

Congratulations Missy; your first button.

Well done you!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Saturday night's alright for fighting

I was looking forward to Saturday evening as we had invited friends for dinner at ours, for the first time. M and I had planned our menu, done the food shopping well in advance, made a special trip for firewood and coal, not to mention preparing everything nice and early on the Saturday, such as “my” now famous date tart.

And, thanks to this meticulous planning, the house was tidy, the children were in bed, the fire was glowing beautifully, strategically placed candle were lit (including one in the shape of a wine bottle) and the smell from the seafood pie slowly cooking in the oven was filling the kitchen and dining room.

Our guests were due at 8.30pm and so, when our usually punctual friends hadn’t arrived by 8.40pm, M and I were puzzled. Simultaneously, when the ‘phone then rang out, we knew something was wrong.

It turns out our guests had booked their baby-sitter for the wrong Saturday and did we know anyone that might be able to help out. No, we didn’t know anyone who could help out.

I know what you’re thinking; they just didn’t want to come. Well, if they had cancelled before the actual night then you might have something but I just know they wouldn’t have done it when they did.

So M and I laughed (yes, I managed to laugh about it; believe me, I’m as amazed as you are) and agreed to just enjoy the evening by ourselves.

Then we looked at how much food their was and we quickly thought of another plan.

I would knock and ask our neighbours if, by default admittedly, they would like an evening of wining and dining at ours. After stating that they weren’t anybody’s reserve dinner guests (in a very impolite manner), they hurried over.

The moral of the story?

When you think things are falling down around your ears, all is not lost. Hang in there – someone (or something) will come along and get you out of that creek you find yourself in without a certain paddle.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Need I say more?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"When I come across a day, that's grey ..."

If I didn’t know better, I’d say that the weather did it on purpose. You know how it waits for a bank holiday to arrive before unleashing buffeting winds and a torrent of rain?

And I'm not joking about thinking the weather would (or could) do something on purpose. I mean, the realistic me knows that this is unlikely at best and the onset of madness at worst, but still I persevere.

“Bloody weather, waiting for us to do such and such”, I moan. “Typical! I knew it would rain on the one day I wanted to …” I grumble.

I make no bones about hating the rain. Yes, I know we need the rain, but why can’t it just rain at night, keeping everyone’s precious lawns green, and keep out of my way during the day? Is that so much to ask?

But, in my more lucid moments, I actually give some clear thought to specific important days in my family calendar and consider what the weather was doing on those days.

And, if I am honest, I would remember that actually, the weather is very kind to us. Annabel’s and Joseph’s birthdays have threatened to be washouts in the past but, at the last minute, the rain stopped and the sun came out, allowing an unspecified number of children to run around in the garden rather than in the house.

And, irrespective of the weather generally as autumn kicks in and winter approaches, the sun always seems to shine for us on the 12th October, reminding us of the beautiful day (of the same date) we had in Positano for our wedding day way back in 2000.

My mother-in-law gave us a card and, tact not being her strongest point wrote:

“So far so good”

Happy 8th anniversary love. So far so good eh?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Catch me if you can!

Ok, I admit it, I can’t remember the exact year but it was primary school; I reckon I must’ve been about 8 or 9 years of age.

Our school trip was to a farm in Suffolk and, among other things, we went rock climbing. It was the middle of nowhere, a bright blustery day (yes, I can remember perfectly well thank you) and I was about to climb a sheer rock face, with not very much between me and a very hard looking ground apart from some thin rope.

I s’pose I did have a hard hat on which I’m sure would’ve broken my fall from 60 feet up if push came to shove.

Anyway, it had been an excitement filled day, culminating in the ‘Big Climb’; and it was my turn. I have clearly blocked out most of what followed but the next thing I remember is looking up and being approximately 5 or 6 feet from the top.

And then I froze.

I had an instructor below telling me to stay calm and “go for it”. I had another instructor barely 2 metres above me, looking down reminding me that I was on a rope and would NOT fall.

Nothing helped though. I can remember the fear, my stomach in knots, legs turned to jelly, hands tightening on the rope and refusing to let go. The guy in charge ended up literally pulling me up on the rope.

And that, because the memory is so vivid, is the reason my heart almost broke yesterday when Joseph experienced the same.

We enrolled on a parent and child rock-climbing course for 8 weeks, you know, just to try something different. And very enjoyable it is too. For both of us.

Long story short, the first lesson was coming to an end and while I spoke with the instructor, Joseph asked if he could go to the practice ‘wall’ a short distance away an before I could answer, he was off. The instructor and I continued talking for several minutes when I became aware of someone crying, quite loudly.

I glanced over at Joseph and, through the chain link fence, he looked ok, swinging on the hand pegs. Plus the fact that due to the acoustics of where we were standing, it didn’t sound like the crying was coming from his direction anyway. I carried on talking, the crying became louder and one of the Mums started running towards Joseph.

Then I realised.

I can run fairly quickly when I need to but even I was surprised at the speed with which I covered the considerable distance and, as I got close, could hear the fear in what were now screams.

I half grabbed, half caught him as he finally let go of the hand pegs and I could see his face was soaked with tears. The irony is that he was only 3 feet off the ground but when you are scared of falling, I guess the height is irrelevant.

It was quite an action packed first lesson.

One down, seven more to go!

Note: for the more suspicious among you, the picture above was taken on a different climbing wall on a different day; I did NOT take a picture while Joseph was hanging there crying!!


Monday, October 06, 2008

Je n'aime pas le fromage!

As a young teenager, I remember hearing what sounded like gun shots coming from my friends who lived next door. Being the none-nosey type, I naturally rushed round immediately to find out what was going on.

As it turned out, they were indeed shots, but from an air rifle as opposed to a .44 Magnum.

Aah well.

As my aforementioned chum was about to go out, he asked if I wanted to take his rifle for the afternoon to take pot shots at stuff. Naturally, I jumped at the chance and hurried home with my new toy. I then had possibly the stupidest idea I’d had up until that point in my life. Well, maybe not the stupidest but it was right up there.

“Why don’t I go up to my bedroom window and shoot at something from there?”

And so, with a smile on my face, I sprinted upstairs and opened my window which looked out over my parent’s lovely, extensive garden.

Now, I am not proud of what I did next and it has haunted me ever since. No, seriously. I have even behaved kindly to wood pigeons since shooting one that day.

Whoops, now I’ve gone and told you.

Oh well, there you have it – I shot a wood pigeon out of the huge silver birch tree halfway down the garden and, it is a teensy bit possible that I didn’t exactly kill it first time around. That’s right; I had to go out into the garden to, how shall one say ….. put it out of its’ misery.

Misery bestowed upon it by me, to be more accurate.

Now apart from the usual boys thing of pulling the limbs off daddy long legs, I have always been very kind to all animals and as I stood there, looking at the now very dead wood pigeon lying on the grass, the enormity of what I had done came crashing in. I know a dead pigeon may not mean very much to some people but, at the risk of sounding holier than thou, it suddenly meant a great deal to me.

“What’d you do that for?” I asked.

Of course, I didn’t have an answer. Why did I do that? Wouldn’t a tin can have served the same purpose with the added bonus of being guilt free?

Would I, in my minds eye, played over the scene of me shooting a tin can every time I passed a drinks machine?


Every time a waiter asked, “can I get you something to drink?”, would I see an empty can looking up at me, injured, as I walked down the garden towards it?

Again, I doubt it.

Anyway, the (only) good to come out of that act was that ever since, I have never harmed another animal.

(Well, I have to admit that probably the only reason why I didn’t kill a fox with my bare hands last year was that it was too quick for me to catch, but that’s another story).

And so, since that day, I have never knowingly hurt another animal.

Until last night that is.

On Saturday evening, I walked into the living room for something or other and as I entered the room, a small, dark “thing” whizzed across my line of sight; it genuinely made me jump!

I stamped about and made lots of noise and, sure enough, a mouse ran back across the floorboards and behind a chair.

Did my memories of shooting Mr W. Pigeon stop me from taking action?

No they bloody well did not!

I took out three mousetraps and loaded them with a piece of grape, a piece of cheese and (on the recommendations of a work colleague) a small piece of milk chocolate; apparently mice love it!

The next morning I checked the traps; nothing.

The next morning I checked them again; still nothing.

On the third morning I casually glanced over while getting changed into my bike gear and eurgh …. success (if you can call it that!).

And yep, you’ve guessed it, my first thought was, “poor little fella. Sorry about that mouse, but this house ain't big enough for the both of us”.

So now you know; mice don’t like chocolate – they like cheese, just like in the Tom and Jerry cartoon’s. I’m thinking of getting some silhouette stickers in the shape of pigeons and mice to stick on the front wing of my car, just like they used to do in the war.

My kill count!

But I might not!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

"Going once ... going twice ..."

Growing up, my brother and I would often accuse my Dad of being a member of the SAS (the special forces regiment, not the airline).

The reasons for this were that he was often “working abroad”, had an air of secrecy about him when he was home and he would also disappear off on a Saturday morning to “do some running around”.

We have since found out that on Saturdays he would always go to the bank where he could be found, snatching his deposit book back from the bank employee and flicking hurriedly to the page which displayed the balance, before throwing his head back and exploding into maniacal laughter.

(We have also since found out that he really isn’t with the SAS but we are unlikely to drop our suspicions entirely at this point in our lives).

Another little family gem that always makes us chuckle is that we, as a family, could’ve gone abroad with our Dad at various times over the years.

There was beautiful Panama in the mid 70’s. There was sunny Spain in the late 70’s followed closely by picturesque Norway in the very early 80’s.

My Dad however, thought it would be nothing other than a total wheeze to take us to bleak and wet Paisley in Scotland, just outside Glasgow circa 1983.

Oh, how we laughed.

As it happens, Scotland itself was beautiful.

Being the son of Londoner who has come to Scotland to “take oor jobs” wasn’t all that great however. Being in a school full of boys who just happen to be a different religion to me wasn’t a whole heap of fun either.

(Up until that point, I hadn’t really taken much notice of my religion until I realised how much of a big deal it is in Scotland, especially where “fitba” if concerned).

Where am I going with this?

Oh yes.

When we arrived in our “hoose” in Paisley, we found that there was a lovely old piano in the corner of the living room which we proceeded to play, well, bash, whenever we felt like it.

Of course, looking back, I wish I had actually learned to play the thing properly (instead of just occasionally hitting the keys in order to make a noise) and the desire to play the piano has never really gone away.

After speaking to a colleague of M’s recently who knows all things ‘piano’, he suggested I consider buying a digital piano. They’re cheaper, no maintenance costs, easier to move around plus you get the bonus of being able to practice “chopsticks” with a pair of headphones on, thus saving your marriage in the long run!

With this in mind, I have been trawling the interweb for such an instrument and had been monitoring one that was perfect on good old ebay.

Anyway, the auction was closing last night so I sat in front of my PC to try and outwit the other bidders. Just prior to it closing however, M and I enter into a discussion about buying it, how it would be great for the children to learn on, they could take lessons etc and she follows me into the room to see what happens.

Joseph by this point has caught wind that were considering buying something and he has also heard his name mentioned.

“Are you buying something? Is it for me?” he asked.

“Well, you and Annabel. It’s for all of us”, I replied.

“What? Can you buy one just for me?” he whimpers, bottom lip quivering.

“Look, let’s all just be quiet a minute while I concentrate on winning it ok?”.

(I take ebay auctions very seriously by the way!)

The bottom line was I just missed out (as you do) and slumped in my chair slightly.

“Oh, shame”, says M.

Joseph picked up on this failure immediately and freaks out. “WHAT? You didn’t get it??? WHAT!!?!? You didn’t win my piano??!?”

Normally I would try to calm him down a little but I thought it was absolutely hilarious. He went from being blissfully unaware we were even considering this sort of purchase to body popping in a rage because he “lost out”.

Keep smiling Poops. We’ll get one eventually, you’ll see.

Always look on the bright side, right?