Monday, 30 May 2011

Blog, blog and blog again ....

There are lots of things I like about my Sunday newspaper, which, considering my stance of newspapers in general, is surprising. It's the trees I feel sorry for - well, obviously not really sorry otherwise I would be out there petitioning against ALL newspapers, but as it is, the free ones really get my goat (if you want written news you should pay for it, at least) - you know, the ones that get handed out at the underground and train stations.

What I do, is buy one of the colossal papers on sale on a Sunday - the kind that requires the death of an entire sapling in itself - and spend the whole week wading through it. I have no idea how anybody gets through it in one day, unless of course they're bed-ridden!

Anyhoo, as much as I enjoy pretty much all of the sections, there are a couple of columns I make a point of not missing. One is Michael Winner (I'll come back to him at a later date), and another is India Knight.

Ms. Knight somehow manages to write about often 'heavy' topics with a light touch, making them absorbing and interesting. She wrote the below article a few weeks back but, thanks to my desk at home being generally buried under piles of paper, pictures and general rubbish, I only stumbled across the paperwork for it at the weekend, although I knew I wanted to post about it since it was published.

As a blogger (you as well as me), the topic should interest you too, even though it is geared towards Headteachers and teachers. Of course, if you know of any parents who might not necessarily read this article, or those whom you know don't read these pages (outrageous, get them tuned into it now!!!), then point them in this direction or print it out for them to have a shufti at.

It highlights the positive outcomes which (can) stem from blogging, particularly with regards to broadening language and structure of writing. Boys feature heavily in the article as it is boys who, historically, struggle more than girls.

See what you think.

(click on pic, then click again)

Sunday, 22 May 2011

"Nee naw, nee naw ..."

Well, last week was "Walk to School" week in our local borough, which, on the face of it, didn't make that much difference to us, as we already walk to school every day, but no matter, the bottom line is there were stickers up for grabs for anyone who regularly walks or scooters into school. As you may or may not know, kids go crazy for stickers, whether they're big, small, bland, colourful, round, square, whatever - they love 'em!

Joseph and Annabel felt they were on to a winner as it was, but kept reminding me (like I don't work at the school), that scootering counted as walking.

"No", I explained. "Scootering isn't walking - it just counts as walking because it's basically exercise. The whole point is that you don't come in by car. That isn't exercise!"

They looked at each other as if I were mad, then turned back to me and informed me that people who came in by bus could also claim a Walk to School sticker.

"Yes, but people who take the bus have to walk to the bus stop and then walk from the bus stop to the school. They do walk, but probably not as much as people who walk all the way in. That's why they get a sticker too".

Joseph was still after the upper hand, however.

"Hah, yes, but people who drive in always stop outside the school and they have to walk across the road and through the school gate!"

The distance of 15 - 20 yards clearly constitutes "exercise" in his book so I'm clearly going to have to monitor his calorie intake over the coming months and years!!!

Another teensy misunderstanding came from Annabel a few days earlier, on Friday, my favourite day of walking into school. Of course, everyone loves the trip into work on a Friday just because it's Friday, but for me, Friday means actually walking with Annabel, as she opts for leaving her scooter at home so that we can walk hand in hand and practice her spellings for her Friday morning test.

10 words of varying difficulty, to be learnt each week.

I'm happy that she hasn't realised yet, that we practice and finish the words in about a quarter of the distance we need to travel, although I do pack it out by asking her to give me a sentence containing the word she has learnt. I think this is a good idea because she is also learning the context for that particular word, not just how to spell it or sound it out.

Anyway, the only walk better than the walk to school on a Friday, is the walk from the school on a Friday - the walk home. Annabel told me that an Ambulance crew from the local hospital, with their ambulance, parked in the school car park in the afternoon, and Years 1 and 2 were allowed to climb inside, look around, turn on sirens and ask questions etc. The ambulance team then went into the hall to explain how important road safety is, crossing using the green man, how to use our ears and so on.

"Wow, my love, that sounds really exciting. Was it fun to look around inside a real ambulance? I don't think I ever got to look around in a real ambulance when I was little!"

Annabel explained everything, clearly thrilled at having done something I never had.

"Yeah, so now Dada, when I get knocked down by a car, I won't be scared of going in the ambulance, because I know what they look like".

I looked down at her and squeezed her hand. I love that innocence in a child - well, my children - I tried to explain that the idea was to put her off ever wanting to end up in an ambulance, that getting knocked down by a car was an awful thing to happen, that people who ended up in an ambulance were often very, very badly injured, or worse.

She continued skipping along beside me, Joseph whizzing off in front of us on his scooter, and repeated, "yeah, but now I won't be scared if I go in one".

Sometimes, you've just gotta know when you're licked!

This is the fantastic note that she handed to me tonight. I have no idea what "thats the way it is" is supposed to mean!

But it sure made me laugh!!

Friday, 20 May 2011

She's Atomic!

Recently, I wrote about my brother’s Godfather, Les. I wrote about him because he was one of my heroes while I was growing up. Among other things, he instilled a love of music in me, usually from behind a set of turntables; it was a love of music in general. Funny enough, it was his step-son, Tony, who instilled in me a love of a certain genre of music.

Or, to be even more specific, a love of one artist in particular; her name was Debbie Harry, better known at the time as the lead singer of Blondie, a new wave/punk band of the late 1970’s.

Apart from the fact that I loved their music, Ms Harry also happened to be incredibly easy on the eye (although you might argue that, as a boy who was barely into double figures age-wise, most females are easy on the eye). I would rebuke this argument however – how dare you chuck about your sweeping generalisations willy nilly!


Over the course of the following years, as the 70’s were consigned to the history bin and the 80’s gathered pace, my vinyl collection for the group expanded at a fairly rapid rate (as did my audio cassette collection, but let’s not go there!), although not as rapidly as did my wall poster collection. I was immensely proud of the fact that one could see very little of my actual wallpaper (blue and patterned if you’re interested), due to the fact that I lined up A4 and A3 posters as close to one another as I possibly could. My bedroom was a substantial size for an eleven-year-old boy, so covering every last inch with pictures gleaned from Smash Hits, and the like, was no mean feat.

Of course, the years pass, and teenage hormones allow you to broaden your horizons from an untouchable, older, American punk singer, to more realistic goals; someone a little younger, slightly nearer, a tad less famous, perhaps. And although I began to enjoy other groups, other genres of music, and even though I eventually took down my posters (which by now were slightly yellowed by the sun, a bit torn and dog-eared at the corners), I always had a soft spot in my heart for The Blonde One and her band, even as they faded, lit briefly again, released a couple of stinkers before, pfffftt, they fizzled out completely.

(note; I should probably pay homage to Clem Burke here, who made playing the drums look so damn good, I just had to take them up, albeit in the school band, which didn’t have quite the same feel to it!!)

Of course, fate dealt a funny hand when, as a fresh faced 21 year old on an internal flight from New York to Los Angeles, I walked from my seat to get a drink and pass, who I think is, Debbie Harry herself. Impossible! Or not? I go back to my seat, pretend to look for something and head back again, looking more closely this time.

It’s her and I am a bag of nerves!

The mega-star whom I adored for years is sat several rows back from me, heading from the same place to the same place. And what does one do in such a situation?

Naturally, you don’t do anything and spend the next ten years regretting not going up to her and asking for an autograph, a picture, anything! In my defence, I did try to take a picture of her without approaching her at baggage reclaim in LAX airport (which I still have to this day), but I was trying to be too covert for it to have come out successfully. I put it down to experience and promise myself I would never be too afraid to go up to someone, anyone, in the future.

Time passes and we’re up to the late 90’s, almost 20 years have passed, and I’m standing in the Docklands Arena with a friend of a friend who also had a ‘thing’ for Blondie, watching their glorious return together, in the shape of the ‘No Exit’ tour, leaping about all over the place to the riotous Screaming Skin. They’re back, they sound terrific, she still looks damn good and I am thrilled.

A few months later and fate deals me an even quirkier hand than my previous one.

The lovely M and I are shopping down Portobello Road market in West London (pre-parenthood, we could afford to do lots of things, all the time), when I see a familiar couple walking past us in the opposite direction.

I stop and say to M, “I think that was Blondie!” She looks back and asks if I’m sure.

I’m not sure, so I walk after who I think are they, overtake them without looking back, get a sensible distance past them, before turning back again and walking in my original direction.

It’s them!!

In a fraction of a second, the posters on my wall, the records I have bought, the missed opportunity in Los Angeles all come flooding back, I relive a huge chunk of my life as Debbie Harry and Chris Stein go to pass me for the second time in as many minutes. They are both wearing dark glasses, which have done nothing to disguise them.

I can’t let it happen again.

I am suddenly aware that I am wearing a grubby red coat (bought in Chicago on the same trip to the U.S. all those years ago), as well as a small grey beanie hat – hey, it was freezing, what can I say? – so I snatch my hat off, now aware that my hair must look ridiculous, and step in front of the couple, blocking their path.

I then proceed to babble some semi-incoherent nonsense, trying to explain in seconds how I almost said hello to her before, how I’ve been a lifelong fan, all the usual nonsense that they must hear every time someone recognises them, and, as if to put me out of my misery, Debbie Harry unlinks her arm from Mr Stein’s arm, takes off her glove and extends it towards me and says “hello”.

I stop babbling immediately and look from her face, to her hand, then back to her face, before slowly putting my hand in hers and shaking it gently. "Nice to meet you", she continued before I managed an answer. I can tell you that (with back up from M), that we spoke a little more, although very briefly. I can not, however, tell you anything that was said, such a mess was I.

As they walked away, probably to be accosted by some other nut further up the street, M gave me a big hug and tried to snap me out of the trance I found myself in.

I could NOT believe it!

Fate had rewarded me for having missed my big chance a decade earlier, all the way across the pond, by having Debbie Harry walk along a London street. And not just Harry but Stein too, just for good measure.

To top it all, she's back, in what seems like another comeback, interviews, albums releases and, as you can see below, cover shoots.

Remember, just when you think all is lost, when you think you’ve blown your chance forever, take a deep breath; it’ll come.

It just wasn’t meant to happen right then, when you wanted it to.

But it will.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

"When the boat comes in ..."

As is usually the case each year, following one of the children's "birthday tea parties", Annabel had her "proper" birthday party. The difference? Well, the "tea parties" are for Grandparents, Uncles and the like, and the "proper" one is for their friends from school.

(The children's friends, not the Grandparents, obviously!)

Annabel and 10 of her class mates celebrated at the Build-A-Bear Workshop, where they got to choose a limp, stuffing-less teddy bear, before proceeding to stuff aforementioned bear, choose a heart to put inside the bear (after having closed eyes and made a wish on said heart), having it sewn up, put in a presentation box and receiving a 'birth' certificate (honestly) proving ownership.

Although it wasn't the cheapest way to throw a child's birthday party, Annabel did make up for cost by insisting, insisting, that herself and her guests eat in .... oh the shame .... Mcdonald's. The woman serving me at the till looked at me as if I was mad when I politely asked for 11 Happy Meals, 8 with chicken nuggets, two with cheeseburgers and 1 with fish fingers, all with blackcurrant Fruit Shoot drinks.

11 x £2.49, ker-ching, thank you very much.

So why the pictures of fish, I hear you think?

Well, perhaps in a pathetic attempt to make up for the McDonald's story, I thought I would show you how we really do eat healthily ... most of the time ... at home, at least!

I grant you, the fish in the picture look way too big to serve as whitebait, but, in the absence of the fishmongers having any whitebait, I went for the next nearest in size; sprats.

I also accept any accusations you my throw my way that the sprats I purchased are enormous - they do indeed, look rather large (but I must mention the fact that approximately 25-30 fish, as pictured, cost tme the sum total of £1 - another bargain, ker-ching!)

But we went with it, and the children enjoyed being in charge of breaking the egg into a bowl, putting some flour out onto a plate, heating a small amount of oil in my warped frying pan (very annoying, more of that another time), before cooking them themselves.

They took it in turns to dip the whole fish into the egg, roll it about in a bit of flour, and then I, being the only responsible adult anywhere for a hundred miles, or so, placed the coated fish into the pan.

Sizzle sizzle, frying pan frizzle (or something like that), et voila! Some very very tasty, albeit rather large, whitebait/sprats. Ok, ok, they could've got more of a flour coating but this wasn't deemed a problem amongst the panel of judges.

The children liked them, I liked them, poor M didn't get the chance 'cos she was out (working or summat??!?), and the healthy dollop of tartare sauce was also met with approval.

So there, you see? We do our very best to balance healthy with the not-so-healthy.

I thank you.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

I'll huff and I'll puff ...

Being the Top Dad that I am, it's only natural that I would want to mark the passing of a special date for my children.

Like, it would be out of the question to miss the actual date and post the day after the event. It is for this reason that I forgot to post last night, telling you all about my daughter's birthday. Actually, I didn't forget as such, I was just rather pooped and needed desparately to go to sleep.

Simple as that.

Thanks to my hiatus last year, I realise I didn't offer up a celebratory post in Annabel's honour, something I have to admit to regretting. Still, I'm back on course now, so I'm sorry Missy - I hope you forgive me (when you're old enough to care less, of course!)

6 years old, I can hardly believe it. You are looking so lovely, so grown up, you're getting sweeter every day.

Annabel wanted a count down chart to her big day so we copied the cover of one of her favourite books - How many Sleeps - which tells the story of a little mouse who counts down to his birthday by asking his mother, surprise surprise, how many sleeps left until his big day.

It was lovely watching Annabel rushing to her chart each morning, pen in hand, the excitement mounting as the days passed.

And now it's been and gone.

Happy birthday sweet-pea.

We love you muchos

Sunday, 8 May 2011

"Man does the job he's paid to do"

Didn't I tell you?

Didn't I??

Didn't I tell you that the press wouldn't leave William and Kate alone for five minutes, so they could get on with their lives?

I did, didn't I?

It's right there, in black or white in my previous .... oh no, hang on, no I didn't, silly me. I meant to. But clearly didn't.

I can imagine the conversations between the young couple after he'd asked her to marry him.

"Look Kate, my family and the press haven't got a great history. You've probably been told what happened with my Mum back in the 90's, I'm sure your parents are worried about similar happening to you. Perhaps you should take some time to think about what you're getting yourself in to before you answer".

Apparently the Queen had a quiet word with William, saying she thought it would be a good idea if they stayed out of the public eye for a while, just like she did when she first married Prince Philip - he was posted to Malta for two years - and she described them as the 'happiest years of her life'.

(crikey, listen to me, I sound like Grazia magazine!)

This seems highly unlikely. I doubt even a court injunction will stop the press from stalking and taking pictures of the young newlyweds.

Having said that,
this story made me smile. Let me get this straight; Prince William, a trained search and rescue helicopter pilot, has, and I quote, "saved a ... man, a week after his wedding".

Is that right?

So, a person (ok then, the future King) who has spent the last two years of his life training to fly a search and rescue chopper, suddenly makes the news for ... erm ... searching for and rescuing some other persons?

What next?

"Sainsbury's employee stacks shelf" shocker??

"Kwik Fit Fitter changes tyre and offers free balancing" scandal???

I'll leave you with a picture of me coming in to land my privately owned Bell Jetranger in the grounds of my Hampshire estate.

But it might not be.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

"Promise to love, honour and WHAT?"

Ok, admittedly, if's never quite as much fun seeing Annabel's Godparents in London as if we were to see them in their neck of the countryside, not least because when we go to their's, our afternoons are taken up with 3 hour hikes through fields and woodland which undoubtedly culminates in a 3 hour sit-in at one of their numerous ale houses, with only a roaring fire, several board games, bowls of unhealthy bar snacks and umpteen real ales on tap for company.

I still maintain they made a mistake moving to Wiltshire!!

Ho-hum, it's their loss I s'spose.

As I was saying, as mildly more fun as being in Wilton is, the next best thing is seeing them here and see them we did. It was all cleverly orchestrated over the telephone by M and Annabel's Godmother to coincide with Billy and Kay's Big day. Oh, sorry, not
this Billy! No no, I mean the other Billy, William; Prince William and that rather lovely fiancé of his, Miss Middleton or, as every media outlet in the country seems to refer to her, "Commoner" Kate Middleton.

Apparently the 'commoner' having something to do with a great, great, great Grandfather who worked down a coal pit and a current Uncle, Gary, who's a bit of a geezer apparently (Google him if you can be bothered; it makes for interesting - and a teensy bit funny - reading).

Of course, depending on which gossip mag/toilet newspaper/website you read, the other half of Kate's .... sorry, the Duchess of Cambridge's lineage, has her down as being the owner of said mine, most definitely aristocracy, terribly wealthy and all the rest of it.

Honestly, I don't know who to believe (so I'm gonna go with the last one, the wealthy one - I'm a sucker for a bit of 'toff' don't cha know!!!).

And hey nonny nonny, never mind Ms Middleton with a 'K', what about Ms Middleton with a 'P'?Her sister Pippa, wah wah, weewah, no wonder Harry was all over her like a cheap suit, she is rather lovely and nearly, oh-so very nearly, stole the show from her big sister - not quite, but nearly!

For years we've been told we should wonder which lucky girl will get their hands on Prince William (now we know) but I wonder when we'll be told who'll be the lucky fella to walk down the aisle with Pippa?

Time will tell I guess.

Right then, where was I?

Oh yes, Godparents. They arrived Thursday evening for our pre-requisite evening meal and glass - or two - of alcoholic beverage. Due to Friday's plans, we all retired at a very sensible time and, as a result, awoke at a very sensible time. We set off for one of our local restaurants which I had yet to try, for a Royal Wedding breakfast (it was delicious), before making our way to one of our fairly local boozers/gastropubs to watch the proceedings on their big screen.

A glass of Prosecco here, a couple of pints of Wedding ale there, a few little snack here and there and we had rather a pleasant morning/early afternoon. Even the children had fun with;

a) some of the other children there and
b) playing with the free pool table (I admit, I got in on that little perk!)

Following this, we ambled up to my monster-in-law's street party which, at first sight, seemed (in my book at least), like it was struggling to get going. That was until the 3 piece band got going and pulled it all together - it was a roaring success!

We headed home after this to continue the merriment, and we dined on homemade lasagne which I had had the foresight to cook the night before, thus allowing all juices and flavours to really get going, not to mention the fact that standing in a kitchen and cooking a dish from scratch was the last thing I wanted to do after the day we'd had!

I thought it was a pretty damn fine way to spend the day the country had been given and now I'm really looking forward to the Queen's Golden Jubilee next year.

If anyone from the Queen's kitchen is reading, I'm more than happy to provide the Palace with lasagne for her big day? Just let me know in advance so I can get those juices and flavours going in plenty of time.

I will leave you with the commemorative plate that Annabel made in class on Thursday to celebrate the Big Day. I think she's captured their likeness