Monday, 12 August 2013

Fancy seeing you here...

If you're here, then you know what you've done. And we think you've been very naughty.

Since you've made the effort to get here, we feel you should at least make a comment to acknowledge your naughtiness.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Diaries of my youth

I kept a diary for about three years from 1980. I think I was trying to emulate the behaviour of my eldest brother Anthony who had begun a similar endeavour a year or so earlier. I singularly failed to achieve that since my diary peters out into patchy snippets around mid-1983 whereas, I believe, Anthony is still going with his.

I thought it would be funny to dip into the life of the 13-16 year old me to see how the world really looked to me in those days.

Now, let's be clear, I was no precocious Anne Frank style diarist. Setting aside the bleak circumstances of her diary keeping, her daily writings were clearly the outpourings of a deep thinker, examining the myriad aspects of people and their interactions with one another. Mine seemed to focus, largely, on what I had for breakfast.

Here is a typical example from 18 February 1981: For breakfast we had cornflakes and toast.

I occasionally extend this to the evening meal. 21 February 1981: For dinner we had baked beans on toast.

And there was room for unconventionality. 24 February 1981: For breakfast we had fishfingers on toast.

Fishfingers? For breakfast? What was Mum thinking of?

I appear to have eaten a lot of toast in February 1981.

To give you the full flavour of this diary, here is a completely faithfully reproduced entry from January 13, 1981 in all its cryptic glory. It involves scenes of toast.

Oh bore of bores! That is my impression of school!

I was woken up at 7:10 by podge [unflattering term for my mother] and had a cup of tea which was pretty tasteless!

I went downstairs and read the paper.

For breakfast we had sausages on toast. The sausages were pretty neat.

I left for school at 8:20 and walked with Jonathan.

When I got to school I almost broke the stopper on Barry's locker door but Sue mended it!

First two lessons we had French in which we finished our plays and performed some of them. Afterwards we watched the film strip about the bloke who stole some petrol and then had a crash. I was asked a question but couldn't answer it as my biro had leaked (see front cover of Rough Book Mark II).

At break I revised Biology.

When we got to Biology we discovered that Nicola Phillips and co. had locked us out but Kevin Gedny let us in.

For the first 5 minutes of the lesson we revised and then we had a test. This was quite hard.

After the test we started a new topic, breathing. Mrs Murgatroyd brought in a sheep's heart, lung and food pipe system. This was very interesting.

In Music we started a topic on the organ. We watched a film strip. This was pretty boring but had some interesting parts.

In ICS [Individual and Community Studies] we continued the government and all the parts of it.

At lunchtime I ate my sandwiches and auditioned for the Kings Herald in the play All the King's Men.

In Games we did basketball and swimming. Jonathan and I forgot our plimsolls so our feet had to freeze on the cold sports hall floor!

In swimming I did 13 widths on my back and not a lot else.

In the evening Mum and Dad went to Anthony's open evening.

Max 1. Min -4. Time 22:00. Span 14hr 50mins

So there you have it. No idea what was going on with the time check there at the end.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Blogged off?

I haven't posted for nearly seven months and you could be forgiven for thinking that the whole Father's Daze blog thing had died a predictable death.

Well, happy people, this is not true. My writing energies, such as they are, have been directed towards an entirely new project these last few months. Around November time I determined that I would finally get round to writing a book and, not just that, would actually complete the thing. Over the last 18 years or so I have begun probably four or maybe five works of fiction and never got near finishing one. Now, finally, I have achieved my aim.

This marvelous story is in draft form (which means it is full of stylistic potholes and continuity bloopers) and, having finished typing it up the other day, I promised myself I would leave it to settle for a couple of weeks before having a determined stab at re-drafting it.

It's not a long book. At the moment it stands at just shy of 14,000 words. It's a children's story of the surrealistic/anarchic variety. It is called The Trumblebuggins and tells the implausible tale of two children, Oliver and Cynthia Trumblebuggins, whose behaviour sees them expelled from their Junior School and follows the unlikely efforts of their parents and hopeless friend Mr Catchratter to get them back into the school. I started telling this story as a made-up-on-the-spot bedtime story for Rachel and Zack about a year ago. The written version is not quite as absurd as the bedtime story version but it's still a little odd.

I won't pretend that it doesn't owe something to the writing style of Roald Dahl. It wasn't an attempt to ape him. It's just what came out when I got going with it.

Rachel and Zack have taken portions of the book to school for their friends to read and comment on and reaction so far has been pretty favourable. Once it's ready for a wider readership I intend to try to get it published commercially. This is most unlikely to succeed.

Should I not find a regular publisher, I have a self-publishing route that I can follow which will at least see the book exist, even if you won't be able to find in on the shelves in Waterstones.

I've redrafted some chunks of the book to the point where I'm now feeling brave enough to expose it to a wider audience, so here is a section that will give you a feel for what this is all about:

Chapter 7: Mrs Trumblebuggins has a Crumpet

Later that day, Mr Trumblebuggins and Mr Catchratter sat at the kitchen table of the Trumblebuggins’s house.

The day had not been a great success. Mr Catchratter had barely escaped from Crackpot Junior School, Mr Trumblebuggins had had a long and difficult conversation at the police station about what had happened at the Corkscrew’s house that morning, and worst of all, as far as Mrs Trumblebuggins was concerned, Olly and Cynthia were still not able to go back to school.

Mr Trumblebuggins and Mr Catchratter sat in silence. Upstairs they could hear the heavy tread of Mrs Trumblebuggins as she put Olly and Cynthia to bed. She was not in a good mood.

The occasional yell or scream could be heard from above. Mr Trumblebuggins was unsure if the noises were coming from his wife or his children.

There was a clatter of feet on the stairs and Olly and Cynthia appeared together at the door of the kitchen, dressed in last year’s Halloween costumes. Ollie was wearing his werewolf mask and Cynthia had vampire teeth, dripping with what Mr Trumblebuggins hoped was only tomato ketchup.

Moments later there was another yell from upstairs and Olly and Cynthia made a run for the front door. Mrs Trumblebuggins had had the good sense to close every bolt and turn every key on the door to prevent their escape. Before Olly and Cynthia got halfway through undoing all the locks and bolts, the shapeless form of Mrs Trumblebuggins rushed down the stairs and grabbed them by their ears.

Mrs Trumblebuggins appeared at the door of the kitchen, a child suspended from each hand.

“This is what I mean, you nincompoops,” she said, addressing Mr Trumblebuggins and Mr Catchratter. “These two horrors are even worse since they got chucked out of that school.”

“Not possible,” muttered Mr Catchratter under his breath.

“What was that you said, Sidney Catchratter?” demanded Mrs Trumblebuggins.

Mr Trumblebuggins looked down at his hands, suddenly fascinated by the state of his nails as Mrs Trumblebuggins advanced on Mr Catchratter, a child swinging from each hand.

She leaned down until her nose was an inch from his.

“Well?” she said.

“Nothing, nothing…” mumbled Mr Catchratter.

Mrs Trumblebuggins stood up straight again.

“I’m taking these two up to their beds,” she said. “Where they will stay!” she continued, glaring first at Olly and then at Cynthia. “And then I will come down here and one of you useless men will make me a cup of tea and toast me a crumpet. Do you think either of you can manage that?”

Mr Catchratter and Mr Trumblebuggins nodded silently.


And, with that, she marched back upstairs with the children.

The two men sat in silence for a few moments more.

“Not happy, is she?” said Mr Catchratter eventually.

“No,” said Mr Trumblebuggins. “I noticed that too. I’ll put the kettle on.”

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Zack the Comedian

Ever since Zack has been able to communicate, he's been making us laugh. Or yell at him. Sometimes at the same time. And because we know that we'll forget those unmissable remarks if we don't write them down we, well, wrote them down.

Here are the best of them, in chronological order. You have to wonder what's going on behind those eyes of his sometimes...

"I don't want a nappy on! I just want my willy!" (September 2004 - when declining invitation to put his bottom away before sitting down for dinner)

"I be queen!" - anytime when wearing a hat / crown, Summer 2004

"My willy poked down?" - anytime when first weeing on toilet (October 2004)

"What's that kind of thing?" - when shown a picture of Hannah's Dad (September 2004)

"Got to close the door and put sellotape on it so the squirrels don't get in" (when using the downstairs toilet) - February 2005

Hannah: "Zack, drink some more milk sweetheart"

Zack: "Yes, that will cheer me up!".

(February 2005)

On seeing a present for Julia Neylan: "I'm going to help Julia share this with me". (February 2005)

"Who turned the rain on?" - March 2005

"Did you buy me a yoyo at yoga?" - March 13 2005

"No, not tomorrow! Today after bed! "- May 2005

When discussing visitors: "Sometimes when I want someone to go home, that's why I don't play very nicely" - June 2005

Zack: "I don't want to be a grown up"

Hannah: "Why not?"

Zack: "I don't want to have to say the days of the week"

(December 2005)

(a very tired boy is being invited to have his face washed for bedtime)

"Can I have two face washes in the morning?"

(January 2006)

When Rachel was talking about the death of Coty, the Russo family dog: "Maybe he went to a war or something?" - April 2006

(when eating his chocolate Easter Eggs)

"Can I stop when I feel sick?" (Easter 2006)

Zack: "I don't want to be a grown up?"

Hannah: "Why not?"

Zack: "Because I won't know what kind of deodorant to buy". (May 2006 - a subject frequently vexed over for some weeks until he was reassured that it would be fine to buy the same one that Daddy has if he wanted).

(to Rachel): "When you die you can't have dinner any more. Or lunch" - June 2006

(standing in the kitchen with a carrot he's about to give to Cookie the Rabbit): "If this has been in Rachel's mouth is it still OK to give it to Cookie?" - June 2006

"Don't take your mind out of your head." - July 2006

"I thought I had only one nipple but I've got two." - July 2006

"Was I such a gigantic baby because I had a birthday when I was in mummy's tummy?" - July 2006

Hannah: "Can you think of an animal that starts with N?"

Zack: "A Nairnog".

"Rachel, let me show you what I want. This is really the bestest thing in the whole wide world!" (the toy iron, and ironing board, and matching apron from the ELC catalogue).

"When I grow up I wonder who will be my twin?" - July 2006

Rachel and Zack discussing birthdays

Rachel: "Baby Jesus was born on Christmas day!"

Zack: "Yes"

Rachel: "That means his birthday was on Christmas!"

Zack: "Yes, so he had to wait AGES to get his presents". - August 2006

At an impromtu breath-holding competition in the back garden:

Rachel: "I held my breath for 8 seconds!"

Hannah: "I held my breath for 46 seconds!!!!"

Zack: "And you didn't even die! - August 2006

Zack: "Mummy, last night I had a bad dream".

Hannah: "Did you, Boo Boo? What happened in it?"

Zack: "I dreamed that my favourite colour wasn't blue anymore!"

Hannah: "…. oh. What was your favourite colour?"

Zack: "Green". - August 12 2006

(when he had a bit of a cold)

"I've got a frog in my nose" - November 2006

Zack: Do you get to choose what you want to be when you grow up?

Hannah: …. well, sort of.

Zack: Good. Because I don't want to be an astronaut.

Hannah: OK, that's fine. You don't have to be an astronaut then.

Zack: Do you want to know why I don't want to be an astronaut?

Hannah: Yes. Why?

Zack: Because I don't know how to walk on the moon.

Hannah: ..... well, that's OK. But you know I don't think anyone knows how to do the job they'll do when they're a grown up when they're four.

Zack: Well, I still don't want to be an astronaut. Because I don't want to walk on the moon. (December 06)

During a game of "when you're X years old, I'll be X-1" with Rachel...

Zack: How old will you be mummy when I'm 90?

Hannah: (deep breath)... well, I'll be..... 119

Zack: And how old will Daddy be?

Hannah: Umm.. about 125

Zack: Actually, you'll both be dead. (January 07)

Zack: Do you know why I'm eating so much?

Hannah: No. Why is that?

Zack: Because I want my tummy to be as big as Mr Greedy's. (Jan 07)

I think I've got dried up water in my ears - February '07

"When can we have paper money for pocket money?" - March 2007

"My legs are too long" - May 2007

Zack: Mummy, how many lily beetles/bridges/deer/apple trees are there in the world?

Hannah: I've no idea

Zack: But how many do you think there are?

Hannah: I really don't know Zack

Zack: No, but mummy, how many do you think there are? etc. etc. (May 2007)

"When are we going to move? Because I really want to move. And when we move, I want my own bedroom with table football in it. And if we saved all our money, and all our pocket money, couldn't we move then?" - May 2007

"I need to touch under my armpits but it will tickle too much" - June 2007

"I've got two things a spy needs. I've got a torch and a book to read in case I get bored." - October 2007

"I swam across the pool and I only touched the bottom three times and I didn't have any floats, just my trunks" - April 2008

(upon completing a construction of old cereal boxes and other bits raided from recycling)

Zack: "If we make all these things from recycling then we won't need to put out any stuff next week"

Mike: (pointing at rocket): "Well, what are we going to do with that?"

Zack: "Shoot it into space and it can be the home for an alien?" - April 2008

Monday, 30 August 2010

Put your money where your piggy bank is.

Zack has a fascination with money. In part I mean the common or garden lure of the lucre that affects most of us to some extent, but what I'm actually getting at is his fascination with the physical thing that is money.

I'm not talking about a budding student of numismatology either. Zack just likes to feel his pocket money. He revels in the counting of it and the poring over it and the recounting of it. He liked to collect different types of one pound coins for a while until he settled on the one with the Forth Road bridge on the back. Now, whenever he gets near my wallet he insists I produce any Forth Road bridge ones for him to exchange.

Every now and again, Hannah or I will come across a little pile of coins, maybe on the floor of the living room, maybe on a sofa where Zack has temporarily finished counting his riches and then left them wherever he happened to be sitting. This is usually followed by an exhortation for Zack to put his money away, maybe even put it in his piggy bank. Maybe even keep it there until he happens to need it. Serious conversations follow about the shortcomings of leaving money lying around with even the possible consequence of said money being mistaken as somebody else's and gleefully pocketed. And this is followed by Zack scampering upstairs, either to put his money in one of his numerous piggy banks or, more likely, to dump it in another pile somewhere in his bedroom.

I guess the point of pocket money is to inculcate the idea of responsibility when it comes to financial matters. What Rachel and Zack choose to spend their pocket money on is, at least in principle, entirely up to them. Zack has, needless to say, explored the issues arising from debauching himself and spending it all on chocolate and, needless to say, we have gently pushed him back on this idea.

But I still think that they don't really get this money thing. For instance at a recent, not-to-be-repeated, family camping trip to Brixham, we happened across one of those irresistibly tacky penny arcades that become magnets for all families with children at the age ours are. Especially when it's raining. I recall with enormous fondness the hours I spent in such places during each of the many Hart family holidays to Pontins (which, by the way, my parents somehow managed to convey was the posh alternative to Butlins). Like penny arcades everywhere, this place had one of those pushing/in-out drawer 2p machines where you pile in the coppers, convinced that the next one will cause that cleverly stacked overhanging pile of riches to topple down the chute and into your pocket. Oh yes. Many years may have passed since the days I spent at the Pontins Camber Sands camp but I still maintain the absurd fiction that maybe this time that overhang of coins will come a'tumbling down. Anyhow, these machines are like heroin for Rachel and Zack. And so, I changed pound coins into satisfyingly copious handfuls of 2p's which were duly doled out.

The ecstasy commenced.

Now here's the point. Zack was provided with around 30p to "invest" in this, ummm, business venture. All good fun, of course, but there's no harm in pointing out the meaning of "venture capitalism" to an 8 year old boy on a soggy summer afternoon in a penny arcade in a town that, from my youth I recalled with fondness as being a sunny, happy and welcoming place, but which, in the intervening 35 years appears to have become a chav-infested, down-at-heel, seagull-shit-spattered dump. But I digress. Back to Zack's 30p. Well, to his credit, the boy hit a run of good luck and came out, after his travails at the arcade, with something totalling around 28p in his pocket . Who said these things were for losers? Well, in the vein of trying to explain how money works, I pointed out to him that, you know, maybe I could have what was left of my 30p back. Well, this was outrageous. Didn't I realise that he had just won that 28p with his guile and perspicacity? I may be putting words into his mouth at this point. But his point was clear. This 28p was his and all this "venture capitalism" business was stuff and nonsense. And, to be fair, with an attitude like that, maybe he'll go far.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

The Homer Simpson School of Parenting

I'm proud to report that Zack bagged his first major summit the other day, reaching the top of the highest of the Brecon Beacons, Pen y Fan. At 2907 feet, this was comfortably the highest peak he had ever ascended. Actually, the only other two summits he had conquered were the slightly less daunting challenges of Robinswood Hill and Orrest Head, so this was quite the achievement.

We were part of a group of about ten or so, mostly people from my office at work. Zack was by far the youngest in the group and had decided, quite firmly, that he would be accompanying me on this expedition once I had mentioned that the walk was taking place. Now, honestly, I had mixed feelings about Zack's insistence that he would join us on the climb up Pen y Fan. I was very pleased that he had shown an unprompted interest in the ascent and knew that once he had decided that he wanted to do it that he was quite unlikely to change his mind. But, on the other hand, this was a 7 mile slog with over 2000 feet of ascent and the last thing I wanted was for him to find the whole thing too much, abandon it and to be forever scarred, never again wishing to walk up a big hill.

Things did not get off to much of a good start. The route we had chosen was, by necessity, circular which resulted in the first 40 minutes being a tramp along a dull, slightly ascending lane with high hedges on both sides precluding any chance of a view. This was tedious walking and if you happened to be finding it hard going there was little to distract you from aching legs. And Zack did appear to be struggling with the conditions. We had not put so much as a booted foot on the hillside and the poor lad was tiring. There wasn't much I could offer by way of comfort. Pointing out that there was at least another 2-3 miles of upward slopes didn't seem like the best direction to take the conversation, but I was very conscious that I should not allow my enthusiasm for the day's walk clash with my responsibility to be, well, a responsible parent. If Zack wanted to quit the walk less than one hour in then I had to follow his lead and, within sight of the first bit of open hillside he opined that maybe the whole thing had been a mistake.

I gently persuaded him to heave his bones a little further and, to encourage him some more, inserted a Mars Bar into him. This seemed to perk him up quite a bit (along with the promise of a second Mars Bar later on if he persevered). It was at this point that I had what turned out to be a surprisingly productive idea, and one that I imagine would not be found within the pages of a Miriam Stoppard book on parenting. I promised him that, should he complete the round trip then I would buy him three packets of Match Attax football cards. This was not a bribe, and how dare you suggest that it was. It was, ummm, an incentive. And, as incentives go, it, combined with the sugar rush from the Mars Bar, gave Zack's legs the boost he needed to get all the way to the top and all the way down. In fact, I should point out that whereas earlier in the walk Zack was struggling to keep up with the group, by half way up he was having no trouble keeping pace with everyone and, indeed, nearer the top showed little sign of slowing down, which was more than could be said for some of my work colleagues. Admittedly, he did talk rather a lot about the joys awaiting him back at the campsite shop (where he and Rachel had quickly established you could purchase the aforementioned Match Attax cards) but even this topic of conversation receded somewhat as he was silenced, nearing the summit, by the majestic views of the Cwm Sere valley opening up before us. Either that or he was contemplating the prospect of his second Mars Bar of the day.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Travelling with Rachel and Zack…

We got the late plane from Melbourne to Hong Kong the other night, leaving the city at 10:50pm. We had a rather lovely time in Melbourne for our last day in Australia, trying to enjoy the time as much as possible, without reflecting too much on the fact that this was the final hours of the expedition. After driving the 90 or so miles up from Phillip Island that morning, we spent a good part of the day on the city's excellent free tram service which circulates around the city centre. With no specific objective in mind we nosed around the city's market (from which, it boasts, you can buy anything - which is true if by "anything" you mean a wide selection of fruit and veg) and from there to the central shopping centre which houses an oversized fob watch that plays an insipid and barely audible version of "Waltzing Matilda" (accompanied by a dozen or so nodding cockatoos and rosellas, of course). With no plan and Melbourne offering not much in the way of eye-catching iconic views or must-see destinations, we just mooched around pleasantly, trying to ignore the forthcoming night flight.

It's true to say that we expect quite a bit from Rachel and Zack when we're travelling (I can hear you nodding from here, Grandma) but it's probably never more true than when we have a night flight. We expect them to press on gamely past their normal bedtime and deal with all the many and varied eventualities that international airline travel can spring on you with equanimity. But last night proved almost a step too far. Between arriving at the airport and boarding our flight nearly three hours later, we had seven (count them) mini-catastrophes. None of these problems ever seriously threatened our chances of getting the flight, but together, they hit poor Rachel pretty hard.

I won't enumerate all our woes, but they involved a mixture of getting lost on the way to the airport, forgetting to fill up the hire car with petrol (turns out that the nearest petrol station to Melbourne Airport is on the way out of the airport, not the way in. Nice one Melbourne), walking rather too far with enough bags to sink a ship and having various credit cards declined for various critical last minute payments. It was during my eventually futile attempt to purchase Hong Kong dollars at a Bureau de Change that Rachel ran up to me and said she was about to throw up.

The poor thing had not only had to endure the stress of the various misfortunes that had beset us, but had also been expected to carry her overstuffed hand luggage up hill and down dale as we struggled to find a way out of Australia. And all this many hours past her normal bedtime on a day when she had marched around a good part of Melbourne. Call it child abuse if you will, but we were just trying to show her a good time. Sort of.

Thankfully, Rachel recovered herself without leaving behind any calling cards in any of the rubbish bins of the airport (which looked imminent at one point) and her heaving guts settled down in time for us to rush through security and on to the plane for a nine hour night flight to the strange new place that is Hong Kong.