Come along for the ride!!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

"You'll believe a boy can fly"

It’s not just collecting the film cards that I remember. I can still smell and taste the rock hard slab of “chewing” gum that came in each packet. Pink, rectangular and as brittle as anything. You had to make sure you put it on your tongue first or risk slicing your gum or cheek open!!

The cards I remember collecting the most were for Star Wars and Superman. You not only had to get hold of every single card to fill the album but the Superman ones also had a puzzle-picture on the back that when laid in a certain way, displayed a poster size shot of the great man himself, in all his cape-flapping glory.

Well, different generation but the same old merchandising tricks means that Joseph is now the main collector of whatever’s going and I have to admit that that time has finally arrived.

Yes, he now 'loves' football and is an avid collector of the Match Attax card series. I guess I knew the time would come when the playground games and talk would win him over but, not being in the least bit interested in the ‘beautiful game’ myself, I did wonder if it wouldn’t rub off on him but alas, no.

Thanks in part to our close friend and neighbour being a lifelong (60 years plus) Chelsea fan, Joseph has been the recipient of blue football kits and blue footballs on most of his relatively few birthdays.

Naturally there is some competition in the playground to collect some of the more desirable player cards and in these, Joseph has been more than a little unlucky with the “top” players staying firmly away from any packets that he has opened.

Until Thursday evening that is.

He was sat in the car opening several packs while I put petrol in. As I walked back to the car, he looked up and I could tell straight away that he was pleased about something. I opened the back door to look at him and he was beaming, holding a card close to his chest.

"Who is it?" I asked, wondering, hoping.

He didn’t say a word but looked down at the card, taking it away from his chest as if to double check that he hadn’t made a mistake. He smacked it back onto his chest and closed his eyes, looks up and let out a roar of delight.

"Y-e-s-s-s-s", he laughed, "YES!"

He turned the card for me to see and there, with that silly annoying pout was Manchester United’s Ronaldo. For some of these players to stand out in an entire premierships-worth of cards, a select few belong to the 100 Club, Ronaldo being one of them. Coupled with the fact that most of the boys at school want this one (as well as goalkeeper Peter Cech), Joseph was obviously delighted.

I thought that from a football point of view, things wouldn’t get much better for Joseph this week but I was wrong.

Our aforementioned Chelsea mad friend across the road knocked on the door at lunchtime today and asked if we would like two spare tickets to watch Chelsea play at home to Wigan this afternoon. I smiled and called Joseph out, asking Chelsea Rog’ to repeat what he had just said to me.

The smile on Joseph’s face was response enough, and so it was that we found ourselves (along with nearly 41,000 others), watching John Terry and Frank Lampard score the goals that would beat Wigan into a 2-1 defeat. I have to admit, the atmosphere was catching, football fan or no football fan and to top it all off, as we were leaving the ground with the rest of the fans, we found ourselves walking out next to two Chelsea pensioners, one of whom turned to Joseph and said, "here you go son, have my programme".

We ended up walking a long way back to our car but were rewarded with an incredible sunset over the river as we crossed Wandsworth Bridge.

I have a feeling that Joseph will remember today for a very long time.

"Come on you Blues!"

Thursday, February 26, 2009

"He lives in a house, a very big house in the country ..."

I have been told by the lovely M that I have done a disservice to Bath in general (and the 7th Marquis of Bath in particular) by not going into greater detail about our trip there, so I shall put this right immediately.

Bath is lovely.


I'm half way there - now for the other bit and there really is only one way to say this and that is in capitals.


I will try to impart how incredible a place it is without waffling on too much (you know me however - this won't be easy!)

We opted for the best value entrance fee. This was called a family 'passport' and cost £76 plus £5 for a colour souvenir brochure. Included in this was an audio CD that 'talked' you round the safari park (although it was narrated by BBC's Kate Humble which was a bit annoying!)

The monkey enclosure was closed for repair but apparently they make a right old mess of your car, breaking off aerials, wipers, wing mirrors etc so I was more than happy to bypass them. The park was cleverly laid out with pockets of area to walk around and see the animals across a low fence coupled with huge swathes of land which was home to the scarier type of carnivore - scary enough for them to close huge gates behind your car, locking you in with other 'tinned food' lest something should go 'wrong'.

Frankly, I don't care how many David Attenborough programmes you've seen, when a fully grown male lion in a seductive mood passes within inches of your car whilst following an equally fully grown lioness who has a headache, you sit up and take notice!

If your heart doesn't thump loudly in your chest, you're a braver man/woman/child than any of us were at the time.

There are all the usual suspects; giraffes, camels, sea lions, a gorilla, wolves, tigers and, as mentioned, the lions but what Lord Bath has done is quite remarkable. This is more than just a visitor attraction or money making scheme; the man really is preserving endangered species in an astonishing setting (ie, his own back garden).

His predecessor, the 6th Marquis of Bath, apparently formed a friendship with Jimmy Chipperfield (of the circus fame) and opened the grounds to allow folk like you and me to see animals as they should be seen.

Ok, not exactly as they should be seen - I guess you'd have to go to Africa for that, but this Lord Bath has taken things a step much further and commited the grounds to the long term protection of many species.

And you really do have to see for yourselves to believe what a terrific job he has done. When you see the size of the grounds these animals have, it puts places like London Zoo (the country's landmark zoo for many years), to shame. If you have seen the Animal Park series on the Beeb, it gives you some idea of the scale of the place.

But there's more to Longleat than just a safari park. There is an incredible adventure playground, with huge slides, tree top walkways, areas for the young and the very young, a miniature railway with working signal box, the extensive gardens, an enormous maze to get lost in and finally, the house itself.

Now your passport buys you ONE entrance into all of these separate areas of Longleat but the neat thing is this; if you don't have time to visit all of them in one day, you can come back at any other time of the year and access the bits you didn't do the first time round for no extra cost!! Basically, we spent the whole day in just the safari park, the railway and the adventure playground (with just enough time for hot chocolate and a cake) so we will be heading back to visit the house at our leisure.

Rumour has it that Lord Bath is barking mad. This may be so but he has done a wonderul thing with Longleat, not just by opening the place up to Joe Public but by having realised what an important part he has been able to play in the conservation of some pretty spectacular beasts.

Three cheers for the 7th Marquis of Bath, hip hip ... hip hip .... hip hip ....

Dominant male peeing pretty much where he pleases, in this case, up against a defenceless tree.

Dominant male 'checking out' local talent.

Dominant male accuses lioness of having "obviously low morals" (but we think has was just showing off, what with having an audience and all).

Picky lioness (oh come on, he was her only option!!) passes within gnats gnadger of our car - occupants hold breath - driver particularly so!

And .... breathe ...........................

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"The name's Stalwart. Jack Stalwart".

As part of his daily 'homework', Joseph reads a certain amount of his school book to me and in return, I read a book of his choice to him. As agreed with his teacher, I am trying to get him to read slower but with greater expression, something he is perfectly capable of but needs reminding.

Something I had to remind him of several times tonight was to pause slightly after a full stop before continuing with the next sentence.

Ok, hold that thought.

For his choice of read, we are currently working our way through a boxed set of books we bought him for Christmas featuring the adventures of Jack Stalwart, a 9 year old secret agent.

(Think James Bond in Year 4!)

Anyway, the books are pretty good and no more far fetched than the antics over the years of Mssrs Moore, Connery and Craig, that's for sure.

Now I don't know what happens between him reading and me reading but I usually come over extremely tired and struggle to concentrate on the book. I have to admit to taking the odd micro-nap and tonight was one of those times.

Bearing in mind the thought I told you to hang on to, I remember reading, struggling to keep my eyes open and then .... darkness.

I'm sure I nodded off only briefly but I woke to a deadly serious question from Joseph.

"Is it a very long full stop Dad?"

*cue laughter*

Well, Day 1 of Lent has gone reasonably well and I'm not missing wine at all.

Only thirty nine more days still to go.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Shrove Tuesday

Otherwise known of course, as Pancake Day.

As I'm sure most households do, we always look forward to making them 'en famille' with the children's enthusiasm lasting just long enough to get the first batch of completed pancakes onto their own plates, loaded with strawberry jam or chocolate sauce before the (clearly outrageous) suggestion of an alternative savoury filling of ham, cheese and mushroom sends them scuttling into the TV room shouting "eurghhhh" or "no way".

Another annual tradition is trying to find a variation on the previous years egg-free recipe for pancakes so that M too can join in the eating fun.

This years attempt was a little too buttery and (in my book) should be consigned to the Big Pancake Recipe Dustbin in the Sky.

To counteract the greasiness of the couple I nibbled on (for 'nibbled' read 'wolfed down'), I drank a rather lovely bottle of Chilean red. As I have decided to give up drinking wine for Lent - for the first time in history I might add - I thought I might as well say à bientôt to the grape with my hat cocked to one side and my silly smile alerting those around me what I had been drinking!

What on earth am I talking about?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

An award winning programme - surely?

Well done and thank you to Norma Percy (no, I have to admit, I didn't know who she was either), but she must be congratulated on her latest documentary Iran and the West, three episodes which I watched almost without blinking lest I should miss something important.

What is almost unbelievable is the calibre of the people who agree to contribute to her programmes; she must be a very persuasive individual. Either that or just a damned sight better known than an oily tyke like myself does her credit for!

I mean, ex-US President Jimmy Carter, Warren Christopher, Mohammad Khatami, Vladimir Putin, Jack Straw, George Shultz, Madeline Albright, former Heads of Iran's Revolutionary Guard to name but a few.

It's not just the big names though; it's the fact that it is just about the most enlightening piece of television that I have watched in .... well ... ever.

Politics is a dangerous and tangled game.

If you are in the UK and missed it, look out for it on BBC iPlayer now or on a digital BBC channel sometime soon. If you are outside the UK then YouTube is usually pretty handy for that sort of thing!

I sure hope President Obama is able to "open dialogue" once again with Iran. The world's "baddies" aren't necessarily the ones you think they are.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

"Oh no he isn't!" "Oh yes he is!"

I thought this was a little weird.

After yesterdays photograph of my children's feet (which itself was a tad random), today I received a letter, cc'd to me from a chap to whom I had been referred by my General Practitioner (or Doctor).

I will 'read' it to you word for word.


"Dear So-and-so.

Thank you for referring Mr Dad On A Bike who is having a problems with a painful swelling in the posterior of his left lateral malleolus.

On examination, he has a pes cavus foot type and associated lateral loading while statically weightbearing and during gait (over supination). I believe this has caused over-use of the peroneal muscle groupl causing a strain and associated swelling. The level of supination was slightly greater on the left limb, however I could not detect any limb length difference.

I have attempted to control the supination of his foot by using a temporary orthotic device. I am reviewing Mr Dad On A Bike in 4 weeks where I hope to make a plaster impression of his foot and and make a more permanent device.

If you have any queries ..... yours sincerely ..... blah blah blah".

So, all clear on what's happened there?


Me either!

In fact, if it weren't for the fact that I was present at the time of my examination, I wouldn't have the faintest clue what he was whittering about.

And I thought I could waffle on for ages about not much in particular!!!

Not to put too fine a point on it, I have a swollen ankle.

Ok, ok, it's an extremely swollen and very painful swollen ankle but nevertheless, are all those medical words really necessary?

The "orthotic device" he referred to is basically a small insert to stop me walking on the outside of my heels as I walk. They are a little unusual and will take some getting used to but the plus side of them is that they have taken me approximately three quarters of an inch closer to my dream height of being 6 foot tall.

I am now standing tall at 5 feet, 9 and a half inches.


Ooh, another positive is that I got to take this unbelievably pointless sign in the hospital which I swear I have not doctored (sorry).

I mean, who decides to make a sign like this???

Friday, February 20, 2009

"When they're gone, they're gone!"

I do my damndest to ensure that the photograph I choose for each post, has some bearing at least to the drivel that I write.

I struggled however, to find a picture for todays offering. Not because I don't have any suitable photographs, au contraire. As you fully appreciate by now, I post no picture that gives any indication of what my children look like and so this photo of Joseph's right foot and Annabel's left foot was the best I could come up with today. For your information, I took this photograph on the 13th of April 2006, nearly 3 full years ago (their feet are a lot bigger now).

Before I get into bed at night, I still pick up Annabel's limp, sleeping form and sit her on the toilet. She sits there, eyes closed, scratching her leg or her back and generally wobbles around a bit, before I carry her back to her bedroom.

Depending how tired I am, just prior to putting her back in her bed, I stop in front of her cupboard mirror. I turn so I am facing it (and she has her back to it), with her head slumped on my shoulder and I smile at how much she has grown and then I gently lay her in her bed before covering her up.

Tonight though, I caught my breath.

She has grown so much it hurts.

With this thought in mind, I sat down and started looking back through some pictures of when they were both very small.


As those of you who have children of your own will testify, the lump you get in your throat just by looking at old photos of them is a difficult one to get rid of.

*swallows hard*


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"May I welcome your war .... your war .... you all ..."

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to Bath we ...... went.

And what a lovely place it is too.

The fact that our hotel might as well have been situated in Torquay and run by a chap named Basil is neither here nor there, we had a smashing ti ....... what's that?

You want me to shut up and post the pictures?


here for more

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"The boy stood on the burning deck ...."

A couple of snippets for your reading pleasure today.

Firstly, Annabel.

I walked into the TV room earlier to see Annabel lying on the sofa, remote control in one hand and the other pushed firmly up her nose, clearly trying to excavate something stubborn.

Oblivious to me being there, this carried on for about a minute and a half before she removed what it was she had been after. Without blinking or taking her eyes from the television, she rolled the offending item between a thumb and a forefinger before nonchalantly holding her arm over the side of the sofa and tried to "release" it.

"Erm ..... excuse me", I said loudly, announcing my presence in the room (she was clearly startled). "What exactly have you got in your hand?"

I could see her mind working overtime.

"Is it a bogey? Have you just picked your nose? I hope you're not going to throw it on the floor?"

At this point, she actually had the cheek to try and watch her programme out of the corner of her eye.

"Well? Is it a bogey?"

She nodded, looking not quite as remorseful as I would've liked.

"Right then, I don't want to be picking up boogers later on, go and get a tissue for it please".

Without batting ana eyelide she slumped back on the sofa, looked straight at the television and replied, "I want you to go and get me one!"

Good, I'm glad I stamped my authority on that little situation!

What else was there?

Oh yeah, the same evening, I made fresh pizza dough with Duchy sausages, mozzarella cheese and a rather dazzling tomato sauce (even if I do say so meself).

Joseph walks into the kitchen to see me tearing the mozzarella cheese and dropping it onto the pizza dough and does his little freaky dance that tells me he's not happy.

"I don't like that!"

"You don't know what it is".

"Yes I do".

"What is it then?"

Little dance; he doesn't know.

"This is a different type of cheese - you like cheese".

"Not that type!"

"Here, try it". I hold some out to him.

More dancing.

"Ok, how about I take all the cheese off and replace it with your favourite cheese stick?"

Dancing ceases, thumb goes into mouth which has broadened into a smile and he leaves kitchen happy.

Mozzarella stays exactly where it is, pizza gets cooked and devoured in a very short space of time.

No more dancing followed.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bravo mes enfants, bravo!

Another term, another parents evening; what would they bring?

Annabels' was done and dusted fairly quickly. We were told that she is very good at singing and favours the more creative work stations, like sticking and drawing over things like maths (hey, if she wansts to be an artist, that's alright by me!). She is helpful to others (including staff) and is attentive and considerate at 'carpet time' (story and discussion at the end of the day).

Josephs' turn next and we were delighted to hear that he has settled into his second term nicely, he is focussing on his work better (as well as finishing it on time) and has been earning certificates and stickers for good work and behaviour left, right and centre (including this one).

What can I say?

The future's bright.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

“In the town, where I was born, lived a man, who sailed the seas …”

The day started well.

We managed to all get dressed without fuss, ate our breakfast without incident and got in the car in plenty of time to drive to school (it was raining heavily – couldn’t be bothered to walk). Arrived at miniscule car park (first come, first to get-a-space) and open doors for offspring to disembark.

Me: “erm …… where are your school bags?”

Joseph and Annabel looked at each other mildly comically before looking back at me in unison as if it were a trick question.

Me again: “Right, get back in your seats, do your seat belt back up Joseph”.

Key in ignition, wheel spin slightly during annoyed 3-point turn and depart car park. As always, Joseph pre-empts my impending mood by demanding, “don’t be grumpy Dad”.

Of course, I couldn’t be grumpy with them because it’s me who is responsible for their bags so I tilted my rear view mirror (I’m glad I did) just enough to see them both and replied, “no no, it’s not your fault. I’m in charge of the bags so it’s not your fault at all. It’s my fault, I’m the silly one”.

I glanced momentarily in the mirror to see them both staring blankly back at me, looked back at the road to see Joseph (in my peripheral vision), turn to Annabel, remove his thumb and say, “well there’s something you don’t see every day!”

It is possible that the slight error of him using ‘see’ instead of ‘hear’ made this statement, delivered completely deadpan, even funnier than if he’d got it exactly right and I nearly had to stop the car due to my helpless laughter. It’s always nice to be made laugh like this because the children realise pretty quickly that it was them that made you laugh and they join in with you, pleased to have been responsible for your helpless mirth.

In fact, my grin didn’t leave my face until we got back to school (for the second time that morning) before realising that Annabel had removed her seat belt AT SOME POINT during the journey down (she still won’t say when), and to top it all, the school caretaker had a moan at me for parking in a place that didn’t suit him.

Thankfully, the day got better again after that.

Ooh, Annabel had one of many ‘themed’ days in her nursery and today was “yellow rectangle” day so she did two paintings; one abstract (she was undecided as to whether it was portrait or landscape), and one of a rocket taking off.

I think they’re both pretty special.

Don't you?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

*slaps own forehead*

I don't know whether I want to hug him or shake him!

*slaps own forehead some more*

Lots and lots (and lots) of people won't like what he is saying but somebody had to say it. It might have been helpful however, if he had said it as soon as he had become the Middle East peace envoy. The man is a great orator and obviously not a bad negotiator - he's right in this instance.

Read it here.

I am fully aware that you can't compare the two but bringing Sinn Fein 'to the table' (as they say in politics), ended the IRA's reign of terror for mainland Britain, eventually.

Many were against 'talking to terrorists'.

Come to think of it, many still are, but it has to be said that Hamas are, as a democratically elected body, entitled to be involved in the peace process regarding the 4 million people they speak for.

The view of Beirut from M's balcony, circa 2001

Monday, February 02, 2009

"Here in my car, I feel safest of all, I can lock all my doors, it's the only way to live ..."

I guess my topic for the day will come as a surprise to precisely no-one so I think I will just provide a few snaps of our day.

From the fresh, untouched powder of the morning, to the group exercise in snowman making and the inevitablility of hot chocolate and toasted muffins with butter and strawberry jam which nicely made up for having to begrudgingly come inside when our cold fingers were no longer registering.

(Not to mention the soreness of my left shoulder. I threw a lot of snowballs today!)

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Arthur or Martha?

Way, way, way before I was even thinking about becoming a parent, it would often be a great sense of amusement to hear my brother stomp up the stairs, pausing at the top only long enough to shout out "I hate your guts", to whoever it was that he was angry with.

Looking back, I don’t know why we found it funny really.

a) It’s not a nice thing to say and

b) What’s so funny about a child getting so mad he shouts out something like that anyway?

Similarly, Joseph has a new way of expressing his anger and distaste and, of course, I find it funny. This morning, for reasons unknown to me, M bought him a magazine she’d promised him. As she handed it over to him, he went as stiff as a board, stood on tiptoe and announced that today was "the best day of my life" and then did a little jig.

How is that not funny?

Approximately five minutes later however, his attention had shifted from his magazine to his DS Lite console and unfortunately, the battery went dead. The lid was slammed closed and he stood up from the table, clearly forgetting how rosy his day had looked only moments before and screamed that this was now the "worst day of my entire life".

His entire life mind, all six and a bit years of it.

After I had explained the miracle of ‘using while charging’, he was happily sat next to the plug socket, concentrating intently on the 400m hurdles and, somewhat incredibly, he managed a new world record.

Yep, you’ve guessed it.

Once again, it was the 'best day of his life'.