Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Firing Line

As a father, as a human being, I urge you if you have 25 minutes to spare to watch this BBC TV programme which, while featuring the bravest of cameramen working today, also demonstrates the suffering of children around the world. (It is also on the BBC News Channel at 14.30 GMT tomorrow.)

If you don't have 25 minutes, skip the first 10 minutes. You may then want to visit The Burma Campaign.

If you really only have 5 minutes, skip to 19 minutes and see what desperation and heart-break really means for a man in Afghanistan having to sell his 8 year old son. "I sold a piece of my heart to stop my four other children from dying of hunger."

The final story, while harrowing, at least has had some positive outcomes. You can visit the Stepping Stones website to find out more.

My own problems, as consuming as they can be, look small in comparison.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas 2009

Christmas Eve
I've been trying to engage Oliver in conversation about Christmas as much as possible, as this year he is so much more aware of it. But Oliver is such an excitable boy sometimes, it's hard to really get a conversation where you look into his eyes and see the excitement that Father Christmas is coming. So I made a point over the final week of talking up the big day, counting down the number of sleeps and generally enjoying the thrill of seeing my little boy genuinely excited about Father Christmas's impending arrival. This video was filmed on Christmas Eve before they went to bed. You can see the carrot for Rudolph and Mince Pie for Santa on the table. They both seem suitably excited, though Lucy gives some unexpected views and then wants to be the cameraman.

Christmas Day
We were up until about 1.30am on Christmas morning as we had trouble with one of Lucy's planned presents, a rather lovely toy kitchen. It turned out to have half the screws and bolts missing. After two hours we had to admit defeat, taking comfort in the fact that her "new dolly" was by far her most wanted gift.

At 7am both kids rose. I tried to persuade them to come into our bed for a cuddle, but they were understandably impatient to go downstairs and see whether Father Christmas had visited.

We had set out a drum kit for Oliver and a keyboard for Lucy so these were the first presents tried out. After that there was a stream of wrapping paper flying past our eyes as they eagerly tackled all there was to be unwrapped. After the initial chaos had passed and we had eaten some breakfast, we tried to get ready to leave. This was not helped by Lucy being prematurely over-tired and wanting me to constantly pick her up, resulting in endless screaming when I couldn't oblige. But eventually we did get under way in the car and she instantly fell asleep.

This year we did something different on Christmas Day: we dined out with nine other family members, the idea being to save everyone the pain of cooking for a large number of people. It turns out that the pain of cooking is arguably less than that of getting from our house to the restaurant on time whilst making sure we are fully packed for the following couple of days away at my Mum's place.

Next year everyone is invited to our place again!

The meal was a bit chaotic - they had lost our order and we also had to go chasing Lucy who kept wanting to go and closely inspect the real fire that had no guard - but otherwise was rather enjoyable.



Afterwards we decamped to my Mum's place where presents were opened and Oliver finally got hold of his much requested Go Diego Go back-pack. In fact he got three different Go Diego Go back-packs because my Mum wasn't sure which was the right one! Thankfully, one was the one he desired and he was delighted. (He seemed pretty pleased with the others too, to be fair.)

Lucy had already got her "new dolly" at our house, having asked for it consistently for weeks. She was predictably thrilled with it.

We had Boxing Day at my Mum's house - much of which I spent suffering a head cold - before returning home on the 27th. On our return, after a poor night's sleep for both Hayley and I, all four of us ended up curling up in the sofa-bed in the spare room to watch a movie.

It's been a great Christmas but it's nice to be back in our own space too.

So what now? Well we have a few days off before returning to work in the New Year and the first of those days has been spent in what I have started to appreciate is another Christmas tradition if you have kids: going to shops to exchange gifted clothes for something that fits!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"We'll have a little party" she said

We had a Christmas party today. Hayley organised it and invited some of our friends. She hired the church hall that she uses for her playgroup, took along her new disco equipment and told everyone to bring some food and drink. What a great way to celebrate the end of the working year and the arrival of Christmas.

One small thing I should mention: she invited about 40 families, most of whom turned up.

And what a party it was. She had dancing competitions for the kids (and parents), soft toys out for the younger toddlers and babies, had a feast of food thanks to everyones offerings and generally made the whole afternoon go with a swing. Oh and she made some rather nice mulled wine that seemed popular.

Several people expressed amazement and gratitude at her organising such a big party for everyone. Several people also thanked me, but I have to admit that apart from sorting out some of the music and hauling things to and from cars it was all Hayley's work.

Just to give a feel of what it was like, here's a little video when the kids were doing the Cha Cha Slide.

Given it's popularity, next year we may have to keep its location "hush hush" and hire door staff. Alternatively, does anyone know whether the O2 Arena is booked for next Christmas yet?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Diagnosis - dodgy tummy

(Those of a delicate disposition, look away now.)

The high temperatures of my wife and children have now been replaced by a dodgy tummies and frequent trips to the loo. Or in Lucy's case frequent nappy changes.

I remain as fit as a fiddle. Knackered, but as fit as a fiddle.

I did learn in the course of conversation on this subject yesterday eveving that my son seems to share my wife's love of bottom humour. Any joke involving a bottom usually makes Hayley laugh. So when I told Oliver last night "I'm the only one of us who doesn't have a squirty bottom" he roared with laughter.

Not my usual line in dry wit, but worth the lowering of standards: I just love making him laugh.

The only way is up


"What is this dark and forbidding place", I hear you ask. That, my friends, is part of my commute home, along the River Mersey. And though this is a terrible picture it does illustrate quite clearly the snowy weather we are experiencing this week.

I post it simply because I wanted to record that despite the chill weather I cycled to work this week, including on the shortest day of the year.

This is less to boast to the world and more to remind myself (should I read this in the summer months) that not only is it achievable but in fact is rather enjoyable. The frozen ground means there is no mud (so I took my "summer" route) and the sound of snow under tyres is really rather satisfying. It's too cold to get very sweaty and the morning sunshine lifts the spirits. The evening darkness merely adds to the atmosphere.

And from here on in the days get progressively longer as we edge back toward summertime. The only way is up (and I wasn't even feeling down).

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Living by numbers

One final post for today: as I go to bed I can describe my family by their body temperature (in Fahrenheit today).

Oliver: 99.7 - complaining of a sore cheek which has been red much of today
Lucy: 99.6 - restless in her cot
Hayley: 99.7 - complaining of feeling hot (which is not like her at all).
Me: 98.8 - somewhat clapped out but otherwise OK.

So if the blog goes quiet again you'll know I'm nursing my brood back to health. And quite possibly the mother hen too.

Little things mean a lot

Yesterday Hayley bought two CDs, each with songs and a message from Father Christmas that was personalised, so he was speaking to Oliver or Lucy, using their names and singing to them. In the car this morning as we waited for the ice and snow to melt from the windows, I put on Lucy's CD. Well, her face lit up with the most beautiful beaming smile tinged with the tiniest hint of bashfulness at this personalised message. It melted my heart and has made me smile every time I remember it.

She's been quite Daddy's girl this afternoon. As soon as she woke after I arrived homw with Oliver, she came and lay on the sofa with her head on my lap. Later, upstairs, she asked to watch "I Can Cook" on the BBC iPlayer. I sat her on my knee as I sat in the big office chair. She then wriggled herself until she was lying with her side on my chest and her head tucked onto my shoulder while her legs lay across my lap. It was quite the cuddliest 15 minutes I've spent with her in a while and a perfect antidote to the snowy afternoon I could see outside the window.

Oliver may spend much of his time now charging around being a super-hero, but make no mistake he still sometimes just says to me out of the blue "I want a hug Daddy" and throws his arms around me. Other times he will run and jump into my arms. It's hard to convey his personality sometimes but he is basically a sensitive, caring and loving little guy. Today after his swimming lesson his instructor gave him four chocolates. In the changing room he said "I know! I can have one, you can have one, Lucy can have one and Mummy can have one." (He also wanted to give Grandad one but we'll skip over this mathematical mishap. You can't fault his generosity.)

Hayley has commented that Oliver is very affectionate towards her recently, which is nice because she's often felt he's something of a Daddy's boy. The truth is he's pretty nice to everyone and I love that about him.

Happy helpers

If there's one skill most parents would like to master it's that of getting kids to help with the tasks that must be done in a way that they see as fun. I can't claim to be an expert in this field, but I am fortunate that Lucy loves to help with any sort of food related task.

So a few weeks ago we enlisted both kids in helping to make pizzas for dinner.


It wasn't exactly Jamie's kitchen. There were pre-made pizza bases and Hayley and I chopped and grated the toppings before the kids joined in. Nonetheless it was fun for all as layers of butter then tomato puree were applied, soon followed by vegetable and meat toppings and heaps of cheese.All our preferences and dietary requirements were catered for by having half a pizza each to eat whilst helping everyone else with preparation of theirs.

The end result was pretty satisfying if only because we all knew we had made it and everyone ate a decent serving.

On Friday Hayley again enlisted the help of the children, this time to decorate our Christmas tree. (It should have been done last weekend but there was a saga involving a missing tree stand that I won't bore you with.)


It has to be said that crafts and decorations are less Oliver's scene, so after providing some initial help he left the girls to complete the administering of tinsel, lights and baubles. Lucy took to the task with enthusiasm and the end result was a masterpiece. I came home from my works Christmas lunch (and subsequent afternoon drinks) to find an idyllic Christmas scene.

This evening again Lucy was first to my aid as I went downstairs to make dinner. A simple affair of scrambled egg on toast meant that she could happily pour in ingredients, whisk away eggs and butter toast. I hadn't really planned for the moment I went out of the room and came back to find she'd started breaking the eggs into the bowl without me, without bothering to remove the shells from the resulting mixture. Nonetheless it made a simple and satisfying little task all the more fun to have my happy helper.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

We interrupt this programme...

A friend of mine who I hadn't seen for a while dropped me an email the other day. "You've not been blogging. That's not like you. Everything OK?"

It's true that when I don't write this blog it's usually because life is a bit out of kilter. Sometimes work is demanding. Sometimes home is demanding. Sometimes both are demanding.... at which point the blog gets a bit sparse. There's no great catastrophe here. Just a combination of hectic work and home schedules, minor illnesses and general fatigue with the odd leaky roof and dodgy gutter thrown in for good measure.

So I will try to catch up a little, because the sad thing is that there are so many little snippets I fail to record. Often, as Hayley and I are falling asleep she will say "Oh, the little lady today..." or "Oh you have to blog what Oliver did today...". But by the following evening it has slipped our minds and is lost to posterity.

So here are a few rather random bits and bobs.

  • The kids have now been to see Father Christmas about 4 or 5 times. Oliver has consistently asked for a Go Diego Go backpack, which is odd as he hardly watches it, but also sometimes has mentioned other things. Lucy on the other hand has given the same answer to every Father CHristmas who has asked what she desires: "a new dolly". And God bless her she will have it. She adores her dolls. She has three dolls, all of which she calls "Mama" because one of them said "Mama" if you squeezed its hand. She pushes them round in their buggies, puts blankets on them, feeds them.... she is a little doll herself.

  • I'm taking Oliver to see the new film of "Where The Wild Things Are" next week. It's one of his favourite books. Well, actually it's one of MY favourite books but he likes it too. I hesitated over taking him as it's rated PG. But to be honest he has watched sections of Spiderman 3 recently and enjoyed them. I'm not sure what rating that has, but I'm betting it's probably above PG! In fact even Lucy has sen some. She now asks for "the bit with the lady falling" which is quite a scary scene involving a woman falling from a high building to be caught by Spiderman just in time. Maybe all this makes me a bad parent, but they don't find the same things scary as we do. The other day Lucy started really crying because she was scared of Jack Black when he was dressed as DJ Lance Rocks on Yo Gabba Gabba. I can't put that episode on any more as she is genuinely terrified of him.

  • Lucy is still the best eater in our house. Not only does she usually eat her own meal but will often take an interest in anything Hayley and I might be eating if we dine after the kids for some reason. On Thursday evening I got home just after they had finisheda pasta dinner. Hayley had made a bowl for me so I sat down to eat. Lucycame over and asked to sit on my knee. She then proceeded to eat as much of my pasta as I would allow her. Every mouthfull I ate was watched by her, like a big puppy longing for a morcel. Often in the morning when she has finished her own toast she will wander into the kitchen after a few minutes and, finding Hayley eating a ppiece of toadt, will say "Have a bit of you toast Mummy?". In fact "...a bit of your [whatever food we're eating]" has become one of her stock phrses recently.

  • Oliver is very into super-heroes at the moment. He likes to dress as Superman or Batman or Spiderman. He has also developed a liking for Toy Story after I acquired a Woody and a Buzz Lightyear for the grand total of 20 pence at a Christmas Fair and I showed him the movie. Sometimes I wonder how much he is following the plot of things he sees on TV, but somewhat to my surprise he explained to me that Buzz Lightyear is a toy but he wishes he was the real Buzz Lightyear.

  • That's all I've time to record tonight. I really will try to blog more again as I hate missing the little details that we take for granted now but will become treasured memories in future. Even little things like the way Lucy brings me toys or pretend cups of tea saying "Here you go Daddy". Or how Oliver likes to snuggle his face as close to me as possible if he gets into bed with me in the morning or if I lie with him before he goes to sleep at night.

    Looking at the number of posts I think this year will be my lowest count since starting out. I might not even break twi hundred. And that does make me sad as unlike most things in life, for me it is quantity more than quality that count in this blog. I am not a would-be newspapr writer or novelist. I am journalling my family life for posterity and to do that well I believe it is more important to capture as much information as possible than to write in a refined or humorous way, because only history will decide what in fact were the most important facts recorded. I suspect the small details and the background will often be the most interesting aspects when looking back at today.

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    Oliver's Christmas Concert


    Oliver took part in his nursery's Christmas concert today.

    If he doesn't look overly excited in the video below I can think of a couple of reasons. Firstly, like last year at his previous nursery, he had a rotten night's sleep last night. Secondly, this was the third performance (at least!) they had all given. He has been cheerfully performing some of the songs for us (and others) at home for the last couple of weeks and we had received reports of his enthusiastic participation at one of the previous performances. So we were looking forward to our animated son singing with voice bellowing up to the rafters. But on this occasion it was not to be. Don't get me wrong, we still loved it. And he clearly enjoyed it too, despite the yawns!

    Meanwhile, Lucy and her partner in crime (Hayley's Childminding child) were intent on playing with all the sandpits and water-play areas available in the area behind our seats. A refusal of any kind brought screams, which was not exactly ideal, so they pretty much got to do as they pleased while Hayley and I took turns to go and watch over them, standing at the back of the seats to follow the concert.

    When the children first walked in down the aisle between the seats, Oliver saw me next to the aisle, shouted "Daddy!" with a big smile and gave me a kiss as he passed, which was lovely. He then got a but downhearted (or "sad" as he explained later) at not being able to talk to me while the concert was going on, ending up sitting on the knee of one of his teachers. But after a couple of minutes he sat down on the floor again, though looking a little dejected as this grainy image just about conveys.


    But when it came his turn to sing in a group, though clearly a bit tired he did at least make a bit of an effort.

    Afterwards there were cups of tea and mince pies for the parents while the kids had snack-time, then the big event was over for another year.

    Monday, November 30, 2009

    Nuclear family is broken warns parents' group - Telegraph

    I work. Hayley stays home and looks after the kids (whilst also working admittedly). It seems that tis traditional arranngment is ever dwindling and so we, the nuclear family, are a dying breed.

    ALthough I would love to be able to have more time with my children, I take comfort from the fact that Hayley is with them at this early age. I do despair of our society where making everyone "productive", in other words working and paying taxes, means that women are all but forced back out to work and raising children is seen and paid as menial labour. As I heard Jenny Murray put it today "feminism was meant to be about having choice". But now women are almost having to be apologetic about wanting to stay home and raise their kids.

    Nuclear family is broken warns parents' group - Telegraph

    Saturday, November 28, 2009

    Still utterly butterly

    A little over three months ago I blogged that Lucy had taken to applying lashings of butter to everything possible and that we had even started to buy her a separate brand for her own indulgent purposes. Here's a pictorial reminder of the scene back then.


    Today the fascination with buttering remains. Witness this scene from this morning. The only difference is that she has moved on from toast and now prefers bagels. (And she's ditched the high chair in favour of a booster seat at the table.)


    But if you want the real proof of her enthusiasm, just take a look at this. It's the rise in the share price for Dairy Crest, who make her preferred brand of buttery spread, and covers the period just after the uber-buttering commenced. Co-incidence?

    So here's my hot tip. Lucy's latest passion is for drawing with crayons, so expect Crayola to go big.

    Who needs Warren Buffet anyhow.

    Friday, November 27, 2009

    Fish 'n' Chips Friday - Chip Butties Edition

    The long Christian tradition of eating fish on a Friday originates in a Friday fast which took the form of foregoing the more expensive meat in favour of the cheaper and more readily available fish instead. In this country it's seen more as a Roman Catholic trasition and yet even for non-Catholics like myself it has a resonance. Even today my company restaurant still serves fish every Friday. And of course in our house it's a tradition to have fish and chips on a Friday.

    Pretty educational huh? But not half as much as you can learn from this video of last Friday evening's fish and chips dinner. For example, it demonstrates that:

    1. Mealtimes in our house are anarchic.
    2. Lucy pays no attention to what I tell her.
    3. She's too cute for me to care that she pays no attention to what I tell her.
    4. Oliver eats some fish before having chips, as Daddy asks.
    4. Whatever Oliver does, Lucy has to do (except for eating some fish before having chips, as Daddy asks).
    5. Lucy can eat her own body weight in chips.
    6. You can't have more fun than making chip butties!

    Although point 6 could be called into question when you consider the fun to be had with chicken drumsticks.

    Wednesday, November 25, 2009

    BBC News - School lessons to tackle domestic violence outlined

    BBC News - School lessons to tackle domestic violence outlined

    When I first heard about this I did wonder whether the very act of telling teenage boys in school that they shouldn't beat up their girlfriends might make some of them go out and do the exact opposite.

    But the more I've heard of this proposal, especially starting young in teaching kids to show respect for one another, the more reasonable and sensible it sounds. More importantly, the more I've heard, the more it sounds like it might reduce the likelihood of abusive relationships for girls growing up today. Girls like my daughter.

    I like to think Lucy will be far too clever to fall into a relationship with someone who doesn't respect her. I hope and pray I'm right. All I can do is try to instill self-respect and self-esteem within her, something so sadly lacking amongst the sort of girls who put up with abusive relationships.

    Oh and be a good male role model myself. That counts of a lot it seems.

    Of course, having said all that, what does it say about boys today that we need these sorts of lessons? Or are we simply recognising a truth that has for too long been ignored? I heard on the radio yesterday that only 1 in 3 women suffering domestic violence who come into contact with health or social services actually have it recognised and acted upon. A frightening figure. But not as frightening as the fact that between 1 and 2 women are killed every week in the UK by abusive partners or ex-partners.

    So yes, this seems like a very good idea to me.

    Tuesday, November 24, 2009

    Like father, like son? Not necessarily!

    There's a story in one of Dale Carnegie's books that goes something like this. There were two sons born of the same father. The father was an alcoholic, drug addict, bitter and cruel to his sons. He killed a liquor store cashier and was imprisoned for life. One of his sons turned out exactly like him. The other had a totally different story, raising three kids in a happy marriage, working as a general manager for a blue chip company. When both brothers were asked separately about how their lives had turned out, they had the same answer: "What else could I have become with a father like that?"

    It's a striking story and one that came to mind when I heard about Omar bin Laden, the fourth sone of Osama bin Laden. Despite his father's violent hatred of those he sees as his enemies, Omar is a quiet and compssionate person who is dedicated to causes quite contrary to those of his father.

    I was so struck by this contrast that I am now reading the biography of Omar and his mother. So far it is an interesting journey into a devout Muslim world very far removed from my own.

    Expect me to report back whenever I (eventually) finish it.

    See also this article in The TImes.

    Monday, November 23, 2009


    As I was about to get Lucy out of the car yesterday...

    Lucy (rubbing her nose): "My nose!"
    Me (not sure what was wrong but handing her a tissue): "Here you are sweetheart".
    Lucy (having rubbed vigorously around her nostrils): "I did it Daddy!".
    Me: "Yes darling, well done."
    Lucy "I did it Daddy. I got my nogey!"
    Me (a bit puzzled): "Did you darling? Well done. Shall we get out now?"
    Lucy (pointing to car seat): "Look Daddy! I got my nogey out. There!"
    Daddy (picking offending article from car seat): "That's great darling. Let's pop it here in the gutter. Now, shall we go to the shop?"
    Lucy: "Yeah."

    I love Lucy's language. She is very chatty for her age, forming quite long questions and statements. Her pronunciation is occasionally hard to understand but I think I can translate most things. A few of my favourites amoongst her toddleresque utterances recently are:
    "Scoody doody" = Scooby Doo.
    "Nic nic" - Picnic.
    "Julnian" - Oliver's "Julien" Dog or her own "Lucien" Bunny which she still insists on calling Julien most of the time.
    "Piderman" - Spiderman.
    "Blooooon" - balloon.

    But in truth her speech is getting better all the time so these treasured little funnies will soon start to disappear. The sadness at her dwindling toddlerdom will be offset by the joy of the conversations we are already starting to have.

    BBC News - Dirt can be good for children, say scientists

    BBC News - Dirt can be good for children, say scientists

    Hurray for messy play!

    Saturday, November 21, 2009

    Just sign here

    Anyone who reads this blog even half regularly will know that for many years I have been a frequent visitor to the crazy shenanigans and goings-on over at "All That Comes With It" and I urge you to do the same. Not only is it entertaining as you wade through the sea of comic-book references and low-flying chickens, but it also does great work supporting the Joseph Salmon Trust.

    I'll cut to the chase: all this will cost is 2 minutes of your time.

    The trust supports grieving parents who have lost children, including by paying for funeral costs, including headstones. Clearly they are not cheap but did you know they are subject to VAT?

    Joseph's father, Neil, who founded the trust has started a petition on the 10 Downing Street website asking the government to make grave headstones exempt from VAT.

    It doesn't seem too much to ask to me.

    If you agree, and are a UK citizen or resident, please sign the petition.


    Thank you.

    Friday, November 20, 2009

    Friday Fun


    I work for a French company. This morning on arriving in the office I found that a colleague renowned for his terrible jokes had left the above document on my desk.

    If, like mine, your French is rusty (not helped in my case by the fact that my French colleagues speak such good English that it's pointless speaking French to them), I still wouldn't let it deter you from browsing these short jokes (blagues courtes).

    Though you should be warned: a terrible joke is a terrible joke in any language.

    (Link to a large version here.)

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    Techno Techno Techno Techno


    Let me start with a disclaimer in light of my comments on a post over at "All That Comes With It" about the purer-than-the-driven-snow nature of this blog and the fact that I would rather drink squirrell pee while being forced to watch re-runs of George and Mildred than advertise on my blog.

    Disclaimer: The following post does not contain advertising, it's just that a lot of products have been placed in my house... by my wife.

    In the good old days (last month) we only had an eight year-old TV, a four year old desktop computer and a compact camera. Not exactly gadget central.

    But to this modest list Hayley has now added:

    A laptop computer
    A camcorder
    A 140 watt PA system with microphone
    A rotating mushroom light show thingymabob
    A set of six (or is it eight) music-synchronised disco lights.

    We haven't won the lottery or decided to try to match the national debt. Most of the money for the above has come from a grant that Hayley secured to support her childminding business.

    Boosted by the same grant, we have also acquired:
    Some pushalongs (ladybird, bumble bee, two motorbikes...)
    Some writing tools (a bit hard to explain - not just pens!)
    A children's games console.

    I wasn't at all sure about that last one. I would like to keep computer games out of the house and away from the kids as long as possible, but it claims to be educational, helping with numbers and letters. So far I've only seen a game that involves Mickey Mouse popping balloons, so I am yet to be convinced.

    The laptop and camcorder were chosen by the people offering the grant. The laptop is proving useful, including for Hayley to blog her chidminding for the parents. The camcorder is also useful on that score. It comes with a 60x (yes, sixty times) optical zoom. Why?! Do they imagine children need to be observed from a distance of half a mile? Nonetheless a nice bit of kit.

    The PA system and disco lights are for childminding and might evolve into a little venture that Hayley has in mind for children's parties. We four have had the pleasure of trialling the equipment in our spare room which has become a disco for the last few evenings.

    This afternoon a fellow childminder and her charges were allowed in for a boogie and loved it. The next trial will be at Hayley's playgroup's Christmas party and then at a private party she has organised for our friends just before Christmas. Watch this space to see how things develop. I'll let you know if she starts wearing bling and/or talking like Dizzy Rascal.


    Monday, November 16, 2009

    Heaton Moor Watch ("I shouldn't be telling you this" edition)

    There are a couple of things to mention about developments our locale at the moment.

    Firstly, we apparently have one of the best restaurants in the country! Yes, Damson, which opened where Room 311 used to be has been placed second in a review of Best Restaurants by Tracey MacCleod the Independent on Sunday. So there's now probably no chance of Hayley and I managing to get in there in the foreseeable future!

    In other news, our local Somerfield has undergone a complete re-fit, closing for nearly two weeks before re-emerging as a Co-Op. I have to say I'm a bit underwhelmed. There seems to be less in there and some of my favourites have gone, for example Quorn sausages being replaced by Linda McCartney. Whatever next!

    The Pirus card shop has shut as its lease expired. Currently empty, which is a shame.

    MD Hair seems to be going well and with the kids comfortable there it has become the salon of choice for the whole family. Hayley even dragged Zoe out drinking with the local girls one Friday night!



    And finally it seems (according to a local councillors' newsletter that dropped through the letter box this week) that there are moves afoot to support the Savoy cinema in showing a wider range of films. Whatever helps prevent it becoming a Wetherspoons is good by me!

    Fathers losing touch

    BBC NEWS | UK | England | Bitter divorcees 'using children'

    Although the headline to this report focusses on the worst behaviours of some divorcing parents, more disturbing to me was to read that 1 in 3 children lose touch with their father after their parents divorce.

    BBC NEWS | UK | Education | Cyberbullies hit primary schools

    BBC NEWS | UK | Education | Cyberbullies hit primary schools

    Now here's a story I don't want to read.

    What is a parent to do about this ever more pervasive creep of impersonal technology that takes the "social" out of social networking?

    You can't turn back the clock, but there's undoubtedly something dehumanised and desensitised about a child that sends or watches video clips of bullying (or indeed any kind of suffering).

    Sunday, November 15, 2009

    The Joker

    A few nights ago Oliver woke scared in the night and told me that The Joker had been under his bed and was going to "joke him". The Joker also apparently had smoke bombs in his hands. I think perhaps that Batman book should no longer be read at bedtime!

    But Oliver himself can be a bit of a joker. A couple of weeks ago in the park he tagged along with a crowd of boys aged 13. There were girls there too (asking Oliver "which of us do you like the best", we could hear from across the playground!) but Oliver was only interested in riding round the playground on his bike with the big boys and proclaiming his football alliegance. They were really nice lads and one of them said to us that Oliver will have lots of friends at secondary school because he's cool!

    Today Oliver was playing to the crowd again, this time with his antics climbing a tree. He got up there OK, but he got all, well, "hung up" about coming down. But it was so funny after it happened accidentally the first time, that he repeated the performance several times to an excited audience of his peers. See for yourself.

    (By the way, it was all quite harmless and safe. He's dangling by his coat around his waist, with several adults also enjoying the spectacle just off camera.)

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    Robert Enke

    The death of Robert Enke is all the more poignant for the facts that he had lost his 2 year-old daughter in 2006 and that he seems to have hidden his illness for fear that he and his wife would lose their adopted daughter Leila.

    To most of us he had the world at his feet, yet he lived in daily fear of his world collapsing.


    BBC SPORT | Football | Internationals | Suicide keeper battled depression

    Monday, November 09, 2009

    BBC NEWS | UK | Claims of sex abuse by women grow

    BBC NEWS | UK | Claims of sex abuse by women grow

    Many stories of child abuse often seem to have a man as the perpetrator. But this report seems to adjust that imbalance.

    Thursday, November 05, 2009

    Singletrack World : Shanaze Reade Urges Kids to Lighten Up

    Singletrack World � Shanaze Reade Urges Kids to Lighten Up

    Oliver isn't riding his bike to nursery now that the colder, darker mornings are with us. But this is a good idea for any of us cycling or even walking to work or school.

    Sunday, November 01, 2009

    Snoring cure: £3 jab lasts a year - mirror.co.uk

    Snoring cure: £3 jab lasts a year - mirror.co.uk

    Both Hayley and I suffer with snoring: our own and each other's! So this sounds like very good news.

    Saturday, October 31, 2009

    Halloween (and other celebrations)

    Like many good celebrations in our house, Halloween seems to last about a week or more. The kids have dressed up to go to two Halloween parties this week, not to mention finding lots of other places being dressed up in spooky mist (cotton wool) and surrounded by flying witches (paper cut-outs).

    And in keeping with this premature spookiness, Hayley decided to make a halloween lantern a full week before the big day. I warned sceptically that it would be soggy before the thirty-first arrived, but nonetheless it was great fun to make.

    Here are a few shots of the carving out, plus Lucy and I washing up afterwards, which included rinsing the pumpkin seeds. (Still not sure what I can make with them though.)


    By the time Halloween arrived our lantern had indeed become a little sad and soggy looking. Nonetheless it was an impressive piece of carving by Hayley. (We other three just did the enjoyable digging out at the start.) And we put it outside on display to show that trick-or-treaters were welcome. In the event we only had two lots, but very impressively scary they were too.

    We, on the other hand, already having been to a few Halloween parties, opted for a "sticky picnic" that one of the local churches had organised. This involved the kids first getting a bit sticky with crafts such as making a decorated candle and a tray to hold their hot-dogs. Later they got sticky decorating doughnuts and biscuits with icing ready for consumption later.


    Being a church event, there were a couple of prayers thrown in amongst the stories and games. It was a fun couple of hours and culminated in a game for all the kids. Thay had to sit in a circle and steal something from the child in the middle who had their eyes closed. They then his it behind their back and the person in the middle had to guess who stole it. Oliver played the role of thief successfully and then the guesser. It was great fun.


    The weekend's final celebration was the Christening of a friend's third child. (The only one from the 2005 gang to have a third so far!) There was great entertainment for the kids and Lucy loved it, joining in without inhibition. She danced, played the games... all with kids mostly much older than her.

    My favourite part was when she tried the hoola-hoop. Not bad for a 2 year old I can tell you.


    I got to enjoy a few pints of Guinness and consequently danced around in a silly fashion, not to mention swinging Oliver around in the air and also through my legs rock-n-roll style, plus dancing with Lucy in my arms. Exhausting but fun!

    I have to say that the kids are at ages now where they can not only have fun together but can go to the same parties and both enjoy them. In fact we all had a great time at the Christening. There are times when we'll wonder about a third child. But the four of us can do so much together now that to give that up might be a selfish and foolhardy thing to do. Who knows. Whaetever happens on that score, today I'm loving our little family unit, just as it is.

    Friday, October 30, 2009

    A biiiiiig "W"


    On Friday afternoons, Hayley and I sometimes try to spend time with the kids one-to-one. I think this is valuable to both children, but perhaps especially to Oliver, as it allows him to have some time where he is not hindered in any way by his younger, often adoring, but also less restrained sibling.

    So this afternoon I took Oliver to ride on the Manchester wheel.

    But before I tell you about that, let me mention that to get there we took a train, which Oliver was looking forward to almost as much as (or perhaps even more than) the wheel, which admittedly he hadn't seen.


    In fact, though he enjoyed the ride on the little Sprinter train, he complained that it wasn't really going fast. No longer is simply a train ride an entertainment it seems. My little boy is growing up into a big boy!

    Arriving at Piccadilly Station, Oliver declared he was hungry and asked for a sandwich. A tuna mayo baguette with cucumber and lettuce was his selection, to be precise. We had half each and to my surprise he ate every last crumb of his half, despite already having had lunch not long before. A growing boy indeed.


    My plan to then catch a tram was thwarted by the fact that no trams are running through Piccadilly at the moment due to maintenance works. So we walked across town, Oliver being periodically carried on my shoulders through what must have seemed like big crowds compared to what he's used to.

    And so we finally arrived at our destination: the wheel! I've seen it many times and often thought of it as just a big ferris wheel. In fact it is two-thirds the height of the London Eye. But unlike the Capitol's wheel (which Hayley and I rode on back in 2003) it has much smaller capsules, meaning you can't hide in the middle trying to keep your distance from the drop. And it also takes you up much more quickly, rotating three or four times before your ride is over.

    Did I mention yet that I am not great with heights?

    I sat rather stiffly on the seat, trying to look out at the horizon and not down at the pavement below, while not conveying the slightest hint of my tension to Oliver.

    Oliver on the other hand was totally un-phased by this sudden adjustment in altitude.


    He even stood leaning against the doors which were curved so you could see vertically down to the street below.


    It has to be said the views were great. And I did enjoy the ride, though at about 13 minutes I was probably just about coping with the height by the time we had to get out. (Who am I kidding! My sigh of relief probably caused gales in the Atlantic this evening.)

    And just for the record I took a little video of part of our ride.

    Big Kid Circus

    Candy Floss
    Oliver samples the candy floss

    A couple of Sundays ago, Oliver and I went to the circus. The Big Kid Circus to be precise. We went with Oliver's friend Jack and his Dad, Manny.

    It was not cheap, but there was an online discount voucher which made it much more palatable. And after all, how often do you get to go to a circus these days?

    And when I say a circus, it was a real old-style circus with no safety net, but equally with none of the animals that were pretty much de rigeur in my youth.

    It was clearly an operation run on a tight budget. The performers all doubled as servers of popcorn, candy floss, etcetera during the interval.

    The performances were good, each interspersed with an appearance from either a group of dancing girls or the clown, but the sound quality wasn't great so the humour was sometimes lost a little. Not that it mattered very much. Oliver still enjoyed the spectacle.

    His favourite part was when one of the performers who did an act involving a high slung bungee rope appeared dressed as Spiderman. At the interval Oliver had the opportunity to have a photo taken with a selection of the performers, but there was only ever going to be one choice.


    After the interval came what was arguably the highlight, an act involving a man walking on a rotating figure of eight shaped apparatus high above the ring. It culminated in him walking and running blindfold on it and he even tripped at one point. Was it part of the act? Hard to say. But he was definitely the star turn for myself and Manny, both of us being barely able to watch.

    Throw in an escapologist and various other acrobatic turns and all in all it was a good afternoon. But I'm sure all Oliver will remember in the long run is Spiderman.

    Wednesday, October 28, 2009

    BBC NEWS | Health | Curry spice 'kills cancer cells'

    BBC NEWS | Health | Curry spice 'kills cancer cells'

    So I can eat curries for health reasons. Fantastic!

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    BBC NEWS | Middle East | Report: Palestinians denied water

    BBC NEWS | Middle East | Report: Palestinians denied water

    The apparently ever-increasing levels of inhumanity in the middle east are depressing. I can't imagine what it must be like trying to live with so little water. At least with a free press and organisations such as Amnesty International there is still hope for improvement.

    BBC NEWS | Health | Steep rise in Down's pregnancies

    BBC NEWS | Health | Steep rise in Down's pregnancies

    It was back in January 2007 that we had a scan for Lucy to check for the likelihood of Downs Syndrome. My post at that time stirred up a reaction or two (misgiudeded and unjustified too, I might add).

    Hearing about this report on the Today programme radio this morning, I was surprised to hear that now apparently every woman is offered the nuchal translucency scan. I thought you just got the blood test and even then were only told the result and offered an amniocentesis if the score indicated a high chance of a downs pregnancy. We certainly had to pay for the nuchal translucency scan ourselves back in 2007.

    Apparently the percentage of those who discover they have a downs pregnancy and then decide to abort is unchganged.

    Monday, October 26, 2009

    BBC NEWS | Africa | Malawi: A mother's race against time

    BBC NEWS | Africa | Malawi: A mother's race against time

    Several years ago when Hayley was pregnant with Oliver, we saw a fireman's bike in a mini museum in Prague. I'm not sure how much real use it saw, perhaps none at all.

    But here is a genuinely life-saving bicycle, used as an ambulance for pregnant women in Malawi.

    Sadly my excitement at this story was dampened when I read that there are more Malawian doctors in Manchester than in the whole of Malawi, a symptom of the lucrative wages our government is offering in order to try to maximise improvements in our own National Health Service.

    BBC NEWS | Health | 'Younger wife' for marital bliss

    BBC NEWS | Health | 'Younger wife' for marital bliss

    Hayley is 6 years younger than me, so that's a good start. And if you want proof she is smarter than me, although we met via the same means, I paid to do so and she didn't!

    Sunday, October 25, 2009

    First cinema trip


    Oliver has been to the cinema for the first time. I have to say that it was a bit of a wrench to miss this "first", but I didn't want to leave Lucy with someone else so he went with his Mummy and also his friend Harry and his Mummy.


    The film was The Fantastic Mr Fox, based on the book by Roald Dahl. Apparently Oliver was pretty attentive, occasionally standing up and sometimes sitting on Hayley's knee. She thinks the film was perhaps better suited to slightly older children, nonethless it seems to have been a success.

    Of course, the popcorn went down a storm, regardless of the choice of film.


    Tuesday, October 20, 2009



    I am lucky to live in a part of the world with many great cultural attractions. Manchester has a wealth of industrial and sporting history. Liverpool has the Beatles and its maritime past. Wigan even has its "pier" (made famous by George Orwell's book).

    Then there's Blackpool.

    OK, I admit Blackpool has its tower and as a child I loved the place. Even as a teenager I'd make pilgrimages there with friends by train. The fun-fairs, the candy floss, the arcades full of games and of course the Pleasure Beach were all worth the trip. But I'm afraid that as the years passed I lost my desire to visit Blackpool, largely due to its tendency to be full of drunks as the evening set in.

    But as with so many aspects of life, having kids has helped me to re-connect with what joy there is to be had. And in this case with what is good about Blackpool. In fact, with what is great about it: its illuminations.

    Yes, every year during the early autumn, Blackpool puts on a show of lights that has been going for donkeys years. Yes, even since before I was born. Since 1879 in fact. The lights portray characters and tell stories and have enthralled kids for generations.

    So last Saturday Hayley took our two to see them. And they loved it! At one point Lucy, who had been asleep, woke to see one of Blackpool's old fashioned trams fully decorated with lights and just emitted a long awe-filled "Wowwwwwwwww". Oliver loved the stories and characters - everything from Alice in Wonderland to the Teletubbies - but was most delighted when he saw Mickey Mouse standing near the road and Mickey waved to him.

    Of course there was lots of other fun, especially the rides on the pier.

    But I like to think its the illuminations that will have captured their imaginations and hopefully will be cause for us all to go back next year and for many years to come.

    BBC NEWS | UK | Education | More choice on school start age

    BBC NEWS | UK | Education | More choice on school start age

    Hot on the heels of last week's report saying children should not start school until 6 years old.

    Friday, October 16, 2009

    The S word

    When Oliver was born our lives changed forever. His arrival alone was cataclysmic enough to make every day feel like a journey in its own right, filled with joy, tears and just occasionally some sleep.

    The adventure ahead was so huge that every milestone seemed far off. With a year before he would walk and longer still until he'd talk, other yet more far-flung mile-posts barely crossed our minds.

    And yet one in particular has loomed ever larger in the intervening years. One that is almost impossible to avoid and anecdotally at least can be the source of great anguish.... albeit mostly for the parents. It's the S word: "school".

    When Hayley was still pregnant an old school-friend of mine told me Hayley should make sure the baby was born ("squeeze the little bugger out" I believe was her exact turn of phrase) in August (noting that our bump was due on August 24th) and not let it drift into September, because that would mean our offspring would be at home another year, the clear implication being that they would cost us more money.

    How naive I was to imagine this was a logical and perhaps sensible piece of advice. Today, with my son having just missed the cut (birthday on September 8th) and having just watched so many of his friends since birth go off to school for the first time, I am enormously grateful that he has another year with his Mum and his sister before starting school himself.

    Don't get me wrong, he likes his nursery and we like him going there, but knowing he will have grown physically, mentally and emotionally for a whole year more gives me more confidence that he will adapt well to school. He is a sensitive soul, generous and kind-hearted. And innocent. As surely all four year olds be. But some are not so innocent and frankly a little more mean. Sure he'll come across that a little at nursery too, but I can't help feeling that being the oldest in his class will be better for him than had he been the youngest.

    The thought of Lucy being the youngest in her class (as she will be) does not frighten me quite as much. It still frightens me, but she seems to me much more worldly wise and tough than Oliver was at the same age and that re-assures me somewhat. Even so, despite being 23 months younger than Oliver, she will start school exactly a year after him.

    And so today we visited the school that both our children are most likely to attend and met with the headmaster who gave us a guided tour.

    We've heard good things about the head and I made so bold as to tell him so, which he took in his stride. His enthusiasm, friends tell us, is behind much of the success of the school. And it does seem to be successful. We've never come across a parent of a pupil there who is unhappy with the school and its Ofsted reports are impressive.

    The first thing that strikes you about the school is its size. It's big! It has 450 pupils and large grounds. And when you enter you are greeted by a corridor that stretches into the distance like something from Kafka's "The Trial". But the layout and location of the different classes seems to limit the impact of this hugeness, including two separate playgrounds based on age.

    The facilities seem good (though I don't have much to compare with yet), there are large playing fields and the atmosphere is one in which all the kids seemed busy and happy. (The fact it was Friday and they were on Golden Time, enjoying activities of their own choosing, may have helped with this!) Several of the children spoke to the head unprompted about what they were doing and seemed at ease with him. It was generally just a really good atmosphere of busy learning.

    While there Oliver kept his eyes peeled for some of his friends and sure enough we found half a dozen of them in one of the reception classes. One of them piped up that Lucy had called his house at 4am the previous morning. Slightly embarrassed, we explained this story to the head and moved swiftly on.

    We were told about lots of things that the school does, something of an information overload to be honest, but also managed a few questions ourselves, including about bullying and the approach to religion. The latter was interesting to me as it fell somewhere between my own Church of England school upbringing and an entirely secular approach. Grace is said at meals and the school teaches Christian values but also teaches about other faiths. I like that.

    We touched upon the age of the kids starting school. We had all heard about today's review of education in England which suggests kids should start school at 6 years old. The headmaster said that in effect they were already doing that at his school, as the first year is very much play-oriented learning and only in the following year does the focus shift to teaching the national curriculum in a more structured way. Again this felt right to me.

    During our walk round the school, both Lucy and Oliver, who were both a bit tired, each managed to bump their head! Oliver wobbled backwards and hit his head on a sharp metal door-frame, while Lucy, apparently with too much to observe around her, walked straight into the corner of a book case with quite a whack! So it wasn't the ideal environment in which to conduct a considered and in-depth discussion of the direction of 21st century education, but it was enough to leave us impressed and quite happy at the thought of our kids beginning their school life the environment we had witnessed.

    Now we have two other local schools to see. This school is our "catchment" school, so it is likely our children would end up there anyway, but we want to look at the two other local schools for comparison.

    And though the journey through school starts a whole year from now, applications will have to be made this year. And anyway, that year's gonna fly. I just know it.

    BBC NEWS | Education | Science and literacy in the sandpit

    BBC NEWS | Education | Science and literacy in the sandpit

    An interesting article on play-based learning, which is something we discussed on today's visit to one of Oliver's prospective schools for next year.

    BBC NEWS | Education | Open-plan school hearing problems

    BBC NEWS | Education | Open-plan school hearing problems

    This article is of particular interest to me, not only because Oliver has a little hearing difficulty and one of his potential schools (though not the one we visited today) is open-plan, but also because I work in an open-plan office which is so noisy and distracting that I sometimes resort to putting on my iPod to block out the noise.

    BBC NEWS | Education | Delay formal lessons 'to age six'

    BBC NEWS | Education | Delay formal lessons 'to age six'

    A subject we touched upon today with the head-teacher of a prospective primary school for Oliver.

    A is for Alcira

    Last night Lucy woke at 4am crying. Hayley rushed in to her and, thinking it was more like 6am, she brought her into our bed. I retired to the spare room for the remainder of the available sleeping time, leaving plenty of room for my girls.

    In the morning Hayley got a call from a friend, ALcira. She was checking everything was OK after we "called her at 4am last night". It seems Hayley's phonme was lost in the bedclothes with its keypad unlocked and someone rolled onto it initiating the call.

    It called their landline so it woke the house. The silence that greeted them when they amswered the call made them think it was a call from Alcira's native south america.


    We have now both issued grovelling apologies and promised them a nice bottle of wine.

    Thursday, October 15, 2009

    BBC NEWS | Health | Move to cut child diarrhoea death

    BBC NEWS | Health | Move to cut child diarrhoea death:

    "It is a tragedy that diarrhoea, which is little more than an inconvenience in the developed world, kills an estimated 1.5m children each year."

    Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    I'm telling you Mummy, it's a hat


    BBC NEWS | Education | Home educators' worry at register

    BBC NEWS | Education | Home educators' worry at register

    We have friends in the States who have home educated their kids for some of the time. I think at a certain age (far beyond that of our children), and if you have the opportunity to undertake particular learning experiences, it can be a good thing. But I don't foresee us having the time, money and facilities to take up such an option.

    Monday, October 12, 2009

    And she says I'm a softie


    This morning there was a little more nip in the air and as Lucy's hats from last winter are mostly outgrown, Hayley decided to seek one out with her.

    Despite the fact that we are in period of post-wedding fiscal belt-tightening, Hayley managed to justify to herself splashing out no less that 10 quid on this hat from Monsoon.

    Of course were I to have taken Lucy out I'd have been as strict as strict can be and there would have been absolutely no chance of me coming home with not only the hat but any number of other Monsoon offerings in which my daughter would look just adorable. No, not a chance. I have will power you see. And just so long as I'm banned by my wife from taking my daughter into Monsoon for fear of financial meltdown, that's my story and I'll be sticking to it.


    That clay business: the post-script

    It turns out that Hayley today asked Oliver's teacher about that business with the clay. It transpires that he wasn't in the group making clay pots. He just happened to wander over, find some clay and start making and decorating some shapes for himself.

    The teacher kindly included Oliver's shapes when collecting together the bowls from the group. Hence his inclusion next to the array of pots and bowls.

    So he was neither a revolutionary nor a rebel without a cause. More just nosey. That'll be from his Mum that will.

    The marginally more serious point though is that Oliver seems to be taking to crafts in a way that he never did previosuly. Of course, they still come a long way behind playing at being Superman or a Power Ranger, but it's interesting to see how his interests are evolving.

    Saturday, October 10, 2009

    Thinks that make you go Hmmmm...

    I've had a few things make me go "Hmmmmm" since Oliver started nursery.

    First up was when he came home from Day 2 of staying for his packed lunch (lovingly prepared by Mummy) and told us that the teacher took his dessert of a little bag of Cadbury's Buttons away from him saying "it's not fair on the other children". Hmmmmmmm. He wasn't naughty or anything. Apparently they just have a "no sweeties" policy. A chocolate biscuit? That's OK. A chocolate cake? THat's fine too. But a tiny bag of Buttons? Not acceptable apparently. Seems odd, rather arbitrary and a little interfering to me. Afrer all, they were a little treat for him as he had been so good for us, so they undermined our attempt to reward his good behaviour.


    But I get the feeling that we're gonna have to start to get used to that. A friend came home from her daughters new school this week in tears because the teacher had allegedly told her daughter "you are a naughty girl". Any teacher or child-minder knows this is a no-no. The behaviour should be pointed out as naughty but the child should not be labelled. But as this story is based on the re-telling of a four year old, who's to say it's entirely accurate. But it's a reminder of having "to let them go" at what is still such a tender and vulnerable age.

    The other thing that made me go "hmmmm" this week was when I picked Oliver up from his nursery and he took me to see what he had made. He had made three different clay shapes decorated with glitter and sequins, one of which he said he would give to Father Christmas. All well and good. But next to Oliver's little shapes, which were laid on a piece of paper with his name on, was a rack full of little clay bowls decorated in the same way, each with a slip of paper inside with a child's name on. The contrast was stark.

    What should I have made of this?

    Part of me says that he is ploughing his own furrow. He has a clear idea of what he wants to do and will do it regardless. He is the William Web Ellis of clay moulding! He will lead us forward in some way the rest of us haven't even yet envisaged!

    Another part of me pictures James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. A loner not connecting, but without the romantic ending.

    OK, I'm exaggerating. Wildly! (Were I really worried I could just ask his teacher about it.) But still. Something to make me go "Hmmmmm...".

    Friday, October 09, 2009

    Born to be Wild?

    There are times that Lucy frightens me to death. The powerful combination of her determined nature and her desire to be mischievous has more than once pointed her towards danger. Such as the times she has run away laughing in the direction of a road. Or her refusal to listen when I told her not to lean into Oliver's big toy box to get a toy and she almost toppled in head-first, finally ending up stuck upside-down (before Daddy quickly came to the rescue).

    And there are times when Lucy absolutely melts me. When I pick her up and she throws her arms around my neck with her head on my shoulder. Or when my arrival at home is greeted with "Daddddyyyyyyy" as she runs into my arms. Or when she tells me to "get Oliver one, Daddy" referring to whatever I've just given to her. Or when she joins in with her big brother's play despite having no idea what the game is. In fact the list of these times is substantially longer than the first, so I'll stop there (for now).

    For me this picture, taken this evening, somehow captures both sides of Lucy. She looks sweet and adorable, but there is no mistaking she wants to take possession of this bike and ride away on it. (Indeed, despite its rear wheel being locked she got it half way across the showroom.) And if I were the shop assistant, I'd be too charmed to stop her.


    Wednesday, October 07, 2009


    Last night I printed out copies of a poster, seeking information about the disappearance of Big Julien. They were taken to the location of his disappearance in the hope of turning up some new leads.


    Within hours, Julien was returned home! It seems that Oliver left him at the church playgroup and one of the helpers took him home for safekeeping without telling us. Hayley was so excited at his return that she rang Oliver from her sick-bed to tell him the good news.

    This evening my son was happy to have his best friend back in his arms. Though I did hear Oliver say to him at one point, in a rather serious tone, "Big Julien, don't you get lost again"!


    Illness update

    Hayley went to a doctor this afternoon. Usually if you are suspected of having swine flu the doctors won't see you (in case you spread the virus at the surgery), but as she has asthma they wanted to check her over.

    She was told after the consultation that she has a severe chest infection. So apparently it's not swine flu after all (though no swabs or blood samples were taken so I do still wonder). The doctor put her on anti-biotics at twice the normal dosage.

    This evening she was feeling well enough to eat her first proper meal of the week. She still went to bed at 8pm but hopefully she has turned the corner.

    Lucy, who had a temperature late yesterday evening, has had no recurrence and seems as fit as a fiddle.

    In fact both kids were in great spirits on coming home to find Mummy up and about (though trying hard not to breathe on them). And coupled with our other good news today, we are all feeling a distinctly chirpier bunch.

    BBC NEWS | Americas | Jail terms for faith healing pair

    BBC NEWS | Americas | Jail terms for faith healing pair

    I remember reading this case with horror. Perhaps giving them compulsory lessons in human biology would have been more appropriate.

    Asd there's a joke about a man on a roof in a flood waiting for God to save him which, while apt, is probably not appropriate.

    But the judge had it right for me. "God probably works through other people, some of them doctors". Judge Vincent Howard

    BBC NEWS | Africa | 'I married four women to save money'

    BBC NEWS | Africa | 'I married four women to save money'

    Now that can't possibly make sense!

    Squeak Piggy Squeak?

    Hayley doesn't get ill much. And when she does she tends to battle on through it. So on Monday morning when she said she felt ill I was sympathetic but not very concerned.

    By Monday evening she felt worse.

    By Tuesday morning it was clear she had full-on flu and could not have her childminding kids. We quickly arranged cover and I took Oliver to and from nursery, leaving work very early to do so. (My planned 10-hour day was reduced to 5.)

    Last night she complained of a worsening headache and went to bed at 8pm. I retired to the spare room so as not to disturb her if I got up to the kids and to lessen the chance of infection spreading.

    Late in the evening Lucy woke crying and I found she had a temperature of 101. Cue Calpol.

    By morning Lucy was back to normal, but Hayley appeared saying she felt worse still. An even more complex arrangement of support from friends/childminders was arranged to have the kids (ours and minded) through the day and as I left for work having dropped them off, Hayley was talking about getting a swab taken to confirm whether she has Swine Flu.

    By the time I got to work I had been up for three and a half hours and with all the rushing round felt like I'd done half a day's work already!

    It's now lunchtime and Hayley is still waiting for a call back from the doctor to help decide whether to get the Tamiflu. She sounded very rough on the phone.

    And there you have it. Our house is in chaos.

    The only upsides I can find to all this are that it makes me appreciate what a great job Hayley does during the week with all the kids and that it has actually given me a little bit more quality time with the kids who have handled it all incredibly well and without complaint.

    Anyway, regardless of what strain of flu she has, I doubt Hayley will be leaping from her sickbed before the weekend. I am now crossing my fingers that the kids don't get it.

    Tuesday, October 06, 2009

    She's a peach


    Lucy currently loves peaches. Here she is pictured in the final moments of a single-handed demolition of a nice big, juicy peach. All that's left is the stone.

    Delightful though it is that she eats healthy fruit such as this, her table manners leave something to be desired at the moment. She has developed a liking for stuffing as much food into her mouth as possible as she reaches the end of her meal. Sometimes it seems to be just so she can ask for more. At others it is perhaps so she can get down from the table and play with Oliver. She's more a hamster than peach at that point.


    Monday, October 05, 2009

    BBC NEWS | Special Reports | Aid group in child mortality plea

    BBC NEWS | Special Reports | Aid group in child mortality plea

    Sunday, October 04, 2009

    Oliver: the chef

    On visiting the "big" Tesco this Saturday morning, Oliver's eye was caught by the fresh fish counter. He asked whether we could get some. Readily I obliged, buying 3 skinless, boneless salmon fillets that were on offer, without the slightest idea how I would cook them such that my kids would eat them.

    However, I had no fear, as I felt sure that the web would come to my rescue and indeed it did in the form of old favourite, Annabel Karmel. She had a simple recipe for Salmon Skewers. So simple in fact that I enlisted Oliver's help to make them. You can find the the recipe on AnnabelKarmel.com. But here is our step-by-step account of today's cookery class extraordinaire.

    First, chop the salmon into cubes. By carefully assisting, not least to preserve my own digits, I was able to let Oliver do this. Obviously I wasn't so reckless as to try to take pictures at the same time, lest we end up with shots of "how I ended up in Causalty". (That's ER for those speaking the other English.)


    Next make the marinade and mix.


    Then add the salmon, stirring in the marinade.


    Place the salmon pieces onto the skewers. (A bit blurry this one: hard to capture whilst trying not to skewers only son.)


    Leave for one hour. Actually we skipped this, instead stirring for a good few minutes before leaving to stand for 10 minutes more.

    The it was into the oven, where it was closely monitored.


    And finally, serve with broccoli and rice... et voila!

    It turned out that although he ate a little, Oliver was not so keen on salmon as he had hoped.

    (He went on to have some of the chicken from Mummy's chicken korma instead.)

    Lucy on the other hand loved it!

    (But still insisted on also stealing some of Mummy's chicken later.)

    Dessert was a yogurt followed by a couple of pieces of Dairy Milk chocolate (chopped up into 6 pieces to try to slow the rate at which it was wolfed down).

    And there you have it. Next week I may venture past the fish counter again, in the hope of an excuse to cook Sea Bass baked in salt. Now, what wine goes with that...?