Saturday, February 28, 2009

Why I love Decathlon

Not only does my local Decathlon store provide a good supply of reasonably priced sporting goods, but in the winter months it provides a spacious place for me and the kids to go and amuse ourselves. I check out the cycling gear and sometimes buy them clothes, while they try out the various balls, flip-flops, gloves, torches...

And of course there's plenty of space for them to run around. But today we took Oliver's Islabike. Here he is practicing his balancing skills. (Out of shot, Lucy is on her push-along trike which I am trying to manoeuvre, hence the occasionally wobbly shot.)

Friday, February 27, 2009


This afternoon as Oliver sat on the sofa in his favourite spot watching Winnie The Pooh, Lucy decided to clamber up next to him and watch too. Quite unprompted she then leaned over and held his hand.

She is lovely to the little guy like that. OK, she occasionally whacks him to get what she wants, but this seems to be improving and is outweighed by how much she dotes on him. He got up this morning and came into our bed where Lucy and Hayley where snuggled up. Lucy immediately leaned over to Oliver and gave him a kiss, complete with her trademark "mmmmmwah!" sound. And this evening as Oliver charged around playing a game of his own invention, she charged around after him, not sure what she was doing but just wanting to join in with him.

Finally when the time comes each evening for them to go off to bed in their separate rooms, she always has a kiss for him, often waving and saying "Bye bye" as she goes.

There is nothing more heartwarming than seeing the two of them happy together. Long may it continue.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

BBC NEWS | Health | Clean living way to beat cancer

BBC NEWS | Health | Clean living way to beat cancer

BBC NEWS | Politics | Cameron's 'beautiful boy' dies

BBC NEWS | Politics | Cameron's 'beautiful boy' dies

A couple of weeks ago I was driving in the car ith "Oliver's CD" playing. When Beautiful Boy came on I told him this was my song about him because he's my beautiful boy. A few days later when it came on again he told Hayley "This is my song isn't it Mummy".

I guess every son is his father's beautiful boy. And for that reason I was heartbroken for David Cameron when I heard his news. It doesn't matter that he is unlikely to ever get my vote. Politics shrinks into insignificance alongside the universal human experiences of birth, life and death. And the death of a child is perhaps the hardest to bear of all.

I know that Ivan changed his father. The slicked-back hair and arrogance of the public schoolboy faded in recent years to make him the successful politician he is today. And that is apprently in no small part down to time spent with his son in hospital, reading books to children from less fortunate backgrounds and seeing the public sector first-hand.

But today politics is almost irrelevant. Today he has to deal with a grief I hope I never have to know. He has my deepest sympathy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The wedding car

Friends Rachel and Mike rang this evening and made the kindest offer. Mike's father has a rather nice car, a silver Chrysler 300 I understand. Hayley had been looking at hiring one to be driven to the wedding. But now Mike has arranged to drive his father's for her.

Not only is it a thoughtful and generous offer, but it will be such a nice, personal touch that it is a friend who will be driving Hayley on the big day. So a big thank you to Rachel and Mike.

BBC NEWS | England | Dancing steps up pupils' fitness

BBC NEWS | England | Dancing steps up pupils' fitness

Although I normally roll my eyes at the endless stream of reality TV shows, including Strictly Come Dancing, I have to admit that if they make dancing acceptable enough to be learned at school then some good has come from them.

Not only is it good for your physical fitness and great fun, but when boys and girls get to that difficult age when they might want to ask someone to dance, heck, they might have the confidence to go and do it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Girls just wanna have fun

I played hide and seek with Lucy and Hayley today. They hid in Oliver's bed. When I found them, here is what I saw.

Heaton Moor watch

In the second of my very occasional entries about my locale, I can tell you that our much-mentioned and oft-visited local cafe bar, Room 311, has closed.

Rumours are that it wasn't profitable. I put it that way because speculating about bankruptcy might be premature (not to mention unfair) given that its sister cafe at the other end of Heaton Moor, The Orangerie, appears to be doing OK. We'll see. In these times of credit crunch and belt-tightening, no small business is invulnerable. I certainly hope it withstands the pressures.

A reliable source tells me that the location formerly housing Room 311 will re-open under new owners as a restaurant in a couple of weeks. We await its unveiling with eager anticipation.

It's a shame that 311 has gone, not least because it was nice to have somewhere local to pop into for a meal out with the kids every now and then, not to mention for a beer with friends from time to time (and even, on rare occasions, a drink for just the two of us). But I'm not entirely surprised or sorry when I think of some of the service we had there. In particular, the last manager there, in contrast to the previous manager Chris, made it very plain that those of us with young children were not welcome. She spent most of her time with a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp. When Hayley and I went in there at Christmas, Hayley could not resist saying to her, "Look, we've got no kids tonight, I bet that will put a smile on your face." It didn't though. And shortly thereafter we moved to the much friendlier - including family friendly - Town Bar Cafe just up the road, vowing to go there more often in place of 311.

A week later 311 was closed for good.

The family-unfriendly attitude was a bonkers policy, as the place was forever populated with new Mums and their new babies, often in groups, clearly ante-natal groups gathering together to share their first experiences. Clearly they failed to realise that such groups can often last for years. When I look around now at our friends in the area there are at least four couples from our ante-natal group with whom we still meet very regularly. (In one case they are God-parents to Lucy.) Hopefully the new place will open for lunch and be a bit more open minded!

Meanwhile the long-vacant Victoria Wine shop did indeed turn out to be another hairdresser. We now have 4 hairdressers within a stone's throw of each other. Not that I'm tempted to throw things at them. Well, not most days. I still go to the barber a hundred yards up the road. Much cheaper, and depending who's cutting my hair I get to discuss the finer points of MySpace or the possibilities for Manchester City ("richest football club in the world", as the City fans are forever pointing out.)

Finally, our local Brittania Fish n Chips Bar has relaunched as Theo's. I've heard that he's the nephew of the previous owners. I have to say that it was rare that I went there for my fish and chips, mostly because Heaton Mersey's Golden Gate chippy serves fish n chips of a consistently high standard, but perhaps I'll have to give the new kid on the block a chance. Anything to keep our little community thriving.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I can do it on my own!

Last week was Oliver's half-term from nursery, so I took the week off from work. We booked a very short stay at a nice hotel a few miles into the Peak District, chosen for its health and fitness suite and for its pool.

We took the kids into the pool. At the start Lucy was very much wanting to hold onto Hayley and Oliver would swim about with his arm bands, partially supported by me. But after a few minutes he saw a little boy the same age as him swimming with arm bands completely unaided. Suddenly this struck a chord with Oliver. Perhaps it was the freedom it offered. He suddenly told me "no Daddy I can do it by myself" and started to paddle about without my assistance. He needed some help getting anywhere. His kicking is not too effective yet. But it was a big step forward in building his confidence.

A few days later we went to the Sandcastles pool at Blackpool where there are all sorts of wave machines, fountains, a river, waterfalls... and it was packed with people! This put Oliver off at first but after a few minutes he was happily jumping in and swimming about.

Meanwhile, Lucy who had also increased in confidence a little in her time at the hotel - helped by an extra swimming session with Daddy when Oliver couldn't be persuaded to come along - was absolutely determined to wriggle free from us at every opportunity. She wasn't using armbands this time, but one of those life-jacket affairs. They aren't the most stabilising of devices and we couldn't really let go of her but she still tried to get away. At one point I let her climb out onto the side where there was a sheer (plastic) "rock" face. She only tried to climb it! That girl is a real daredevil. I feel sure that in years to come she will give me a heart attack by doing things like freeclimbing.

The other thing Lucy took to immediately but Oliver had to be persuaded to try was to float down a river of pumped water under buckets of tipping water. It was all a bit enclosed which seemed to put him off, but he loved it once he'd tried it.

Finally, I took Lucy down the smallest slide on my lap. She loved it and requested repeat performances several times.

So both kids are showing more confidence in the water, which is very reassuring. We now plan to build on it with some more regular trips to our local pool.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Folk Train (February 2009)


Last September we took a ride on the Folk Train and very successful it was too. So today we decided to do it again. The weather was cold but the train would be warm and so would the pub. All we had to do was brave the bits in between.

We got to the train station barely in time to greet our friends Sarah and Tony and their daughter Amber who had decided to join us. When the train arrived, to our amazement it was absolutely jam packed. There were only two carriages and both were standing room only. It transpired that someone had decided to celebrate his fortieth birthday by inviting thirty friends to join him on this musical trip.

So we heard nothing of the music on the way there and had to stand most of the way. Lucy was also unnerved by all the people towering over her when sitting down on Hayley's lap, so I ended up standing with her in my arms for most of the journey. Still, it was only about 55 minutes!

When we disembarked at Hathersage station we were unsurprisingly not the fastest to the pub. But have no fear. My forward-thinking fiancee had planned ahead. After the last trip when the only blot on the copybook was the long wait for food for the kids, she had phoned our order ahead and reserved us a table. (Something that the owner only agreed to do as we had kids with us. Pretty decent of him.)

But when we got to the pub we found there was nowhere to sit. We pointed out to the staff that we had booked and the waitress duly told a table full of people that far from being all sorted with seats right in front of where the band would be playing, they were now seatless. The pub staff had not marked the table as reserved. We were somewhat sympathetic towards the disgruntled evictees, but not so sympathetic as to stand with three hungry kids and nowhere to eat.

No sooner had we started to seat ourselves than our food arrived. You really couldn't fault the pub on that score. And then the band played. We all ate, the kids behaved immaculately, the beer was good... a splendid result.

As there were so many waiting for food the band decided to stay an extra hour for the next train. We decided not to. So we didn't hear them on the way home either. Nonetheless it was a pretty darn good afternoon out.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

They're only little once

Ever since Oliver was born we have wanted to do things right. We aren't the strictest or most regimented parents in the world - Gina Ford regimes are not for us - but neither are we the most laid back and laissez faire.

There are several possible reasons for this, not least the fact that things like bedtimes regimes and sleeping well become very important when you know there's no-one around to give you a break. The last time Hayley and I got a lie-in together was the morning after I proposed to her last August. There's every chance that the next one we get will be the day after I marry her this coming August.

But recently we've started to relax the rules. In particular, Hayley had a conversation a couple of weeks ago with a fellow Mum that has changed bedtimes. Her friend was commenting that she sometimes gets into bed with her child for a cuddle before they go to sleep. "After all, they're only little once."

Well, this coincided nicely with the arrival of Oliver's bed, so cuddles were entirely feasible and Hayley decided to follow her friend's example, getting in with Oliver for a few minutes before going downstairs.

Not to be outdone, when I put Oliver to bed the next night, it was my turn to get in with him. Since then it has been hard for us to deny him this small addition to his bedtime ritual. Often when we try to leave he tells us "But I'll be sad". Other times he hides under the covers and says he's scared of spiders, though not really sounding very scared at all. Almost without exception when we do finally tear ourselves away he goes to sleep without a fuss.

Tonight I lay there with him looking at the space ships and flying saucers on the walls of his room. I asked if he would like to go to the moon with me in a rocket. He said he did. I asked who we should take.
"Isabel, Cara, Niamh and Clare [Cara's Mum]. But there won't be room for Clare." It's worth noting at this point that Clare is about 6 feet tall. It might not be relevant. I digress. The conversation continued.

Me: "And shall we take some sandwiches?"
O: "We'll get some in the rocket."
Me: "Oh wow will they sell them in the rocket?"
Oliver laughed, "Noooooo!"
Me: "And what will we have on our sandwiches?"
O: "Cucumber. Ham. Tomato and orange."
Me: "Orange!!! Wow that sounds delicious. And what will we do on the moon?"
O: "Have our sandwiches."
Me: "That will be great. Perhaps we'll see Sam's Daddy on the moon." (Sam is the main character in one of Oliver's favourite books 'Daddy on the Moon'.)
O: "Yeah. And will Sam ride in our space ship?"
Me: "Yes we can give him a ride and let him have a sandwich."
O: "Tomorrow, after nursery, we will go to the moon."
Me: "Well, we might have to wait a while to go on a rocket, but we can pretend and then we can come back to earth and have fish and chips with Mummy and Lucy."
O: "Yes we can."

Lying there in the near darkness with my little boy, laughing and fantasising about riding in space-ships as he wriggled around under the duvet, was just about the best place to be on this planet or any other.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Who's a silly billy?

This afternoon Oliver was round at his friend Cara's house with Hayley and Lucy. As is more often the case these days, he went upstairs to play in his friend's room. (Sometimes he'll even tell the grown-ups to stay downstairs for good measure.)

After a while Cara came downstairs sniffing and upset.
"What's the matter Cara?" asked her mum.
"Oliver called me a silly billy."
So Hayley shouted up the stairs to Oliver who duly came to the top of the stairs.
"Oliver did you say something to go Cara?"
"Yes. I called her a silly billy?"
"Oh. Why did you call her that?"
"Because she wouldn't get into bed with me."

It turns out that Cara has a three-quarter size double bed and he wanted her to pretend to go sleep, as he does sometimes in our big bed.

You can get away with that sort of thing aged three.

Monday, February 09, 2009

I'm a pushover


There are some games both Oliver and Lucy enjoy.

The first that springs to mind is to walk up to Daddy when he is stiing on the floor and push him over backwards. I then grab them as I fall onto my back in mock shock, catching them on my chest and nuzzling their necks playfully and making them laugh. Lucy is a particular fan of this right now.

They also enjoy being chased and tickled when caught. The pair of them will chase each other too, usually just before bedtime, which servces nicely to wear them out.

And of course they love to ride on the Merry-Go-Round which has become a permanent fixture in Stockport town centre, or at least it has been there every Saturday afternoon that I have visited. Oliver behaves perfectly. Lucy insists on trying to stand up (depsite being strapped in), thus requiring the proprieter to come over and implore her to sit down, repeatedly. They only get one ride each. Well, maybe two. Hell, go on, one more. What can I say, I'm a pushover.

Wedding Photographer

We have booked our wedding photographer, Jason Lock. His wedding site is here.

He the husband of a local Mum that Hayley knows through playgroups. We spoke to several local photographers and looked at their work. They were all good, but after meeting Jason there was only one choice. His work and his enthusiasm for it shone through. And although I've only met him once I'm already convinced he's a thoroughly good bloke to boot!

Wedding photography is necessarily no small outlay, so I'm delighted to have found someone who we are really excited to have as part of the day.

Sunday, February 08, 2009


When Oliver was born a friend and fellow musician commented that his initials, OST, are used to denote "original sound track", something that had never occurred to us before naming him. But given my love of music-making I kind of like it.

For a long time now Oliver has been requesting his choice of music when out and about in the car, but as his tastes evolve it becomes more and more possible to listen to something we will both enjoy.

The track listing below is from a CD I burned for him last week, made up of songs with relevance to the little man. Some are songs I know he likes, some are my guess at what he might like, some are there because Hayley likes them and can enthuse about them to him to enlist his support and others are included just because they remind me of the little man.

Here's the track listing, the reasoning behind each and the success of rate of the tracks.

"Blitzkrieg Bop" The Ramones. It is well documented that Oliver loves this song. Sometimes it's hard to get him past this first track!

"Magic" Pilot. Taken from the movie The Magic Roundabout. (Though I didn't use that exact version as you have to buy the whole OST album to get it!) I remember it from my own childhood.

"Mr Blue Sky" ELO. Also from the movie The Magic Roundabout. Oliver sometimes complains this version (which is the original from ELO's 1978 album "Out of The Blue", an album which I got for Christmas that year on blue vinyl no less!) doesn't include the sound of Dougal licking (ice creams if I remember correctly). He also doesn't like the extended ending. (From the back seat I hear "I don't like this song" as the outro starts.)

"Waterloo" Abba. A longtime favourite, though apparently Mama Mia is currently more in favour.

"I love to Boogie" T Rex. Another one from The Magic Roundabout which has previously had him up and jigging about.

"Stop in the name of Love" The Supremes. There was a time when Oliver would listen to this back to back 6 times, which was my limit, not his. Nowadays he just likes it.

"These boots are made for walkin'" Nancy Sinatra. The story goes that when I was three years old (as Oliver is now) I would stand up in the back seat of my parent's car singing this song. Setting aside the clear safety concerns of this scenario (look it was the sixties and we were all risk-takers, even at age three!) I have always found this a happy image. And now my own three year old sings it too. I was prompted to choose it as he has just chosen his latest shoes: a pair of rather splendid brown boots.

"Puff the Magic Dragon" Peter, Paul and Mary. Oliver came home from nursery signing this last week. Another one I remember from a similar age. He is loving it.

"Oliver's Army" Elvis Costello and the Attractions. As a big Elvis C fan I took the chance to include this, but my Oliver, despite the name-check, is unimpressed.

"Octopus's Garden" The Beatles. I thought this jaunty blast of Ringo about a possible friend of Henry the Octopus would be just the job, but so far it seems to have passed him by.

"Monster Mash" Kids Bop Kids (originally by Boris and the Crypt-kickers?). One from my childhood that I have introduced here. He quite likes it. He got out of the car singing it the other day.

Thunderbirds Theme - Having recently introduced Oliver to the joys of Thunderbirds I thought we could have the music in the car. It has been quite popular. Yesterday he requested it as soon as we got in the car.

"Here you come again" Dolly Parton. Selected for two reasons. Oliver likes it. Hayley likes it.

"See you later Alligator" Bill Hayley and his Comets. I took a bet he'd like this and won.

"Take a chance on me" Erasure. Being an Abba track I thought he'd like it, but so far no.

"Beautiful Boy" John Lennon. What more need I say.

"The Ketchup Song" Las Ketchup. I'm starting to regret going public with this now. Hayley loved this song back in 2003 when I took her to Barcelona. It brings back memories of us dancing in the bars around Port Olympic. And I suspected that if I included it she might try to teach Oliver the dance. And I was right!

"You are my sunshine" (from the "Oh Brother where art thou" soundtrack). Many a night I sang this to the little man as he drank his milk. Happy memories.

"Echo Beach" Martha and the Muffins. A song Hayley and I both like. The little man remains non-committal.

"The King of Rock n Roll" Prefab Sprout. As poppy as they come, I was singing this in the morning before I made the CD as we trundled around Tesco.

"Run" Snow Patrol. A beautiful song that has always reminded me of Oliver even from before he was born. It was featured in a programme about pregnancy when explaining how the unborn child can hear songs from inside the womb and recognise them after birth. It always reminds me of that time of waiting and of the joy of his arrival.

"The man who can't be moved" The Script. I'll confess this means nothing to Oliver but is my current favourite song. I managed not to notice it last year on its release, nor its rather charming video. So far Oliver has reserved comment.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Jade Goody says cancer has spread

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Jade Goody says cancer has spread

Lying in bed last night, awake at about 4am, I found myself (for no apparent reason) praying that I live to see my children grown up and happy. I have no reason to think I am about to depart this earth. I was just reflecting on how I have a lot to live for, how much I love my children and that I couldn't bear to have to leave them behind.

So my heart goes out to Jade as she faces the thing I fear the most.

A cautionary tale

It was a Friday evening in winter. I shall be no more specific than that. Hayley went out for a few drinks with some friends, many of them fellow Mums from our area. All went well during the evening, though she noticed that one of their party, we'll call her Alex, seemed a bit tipsy even at the start of the evening.

Some time after the bars closed they went back to another friend's house. We'll call her Jan. By this point Alex is out of it, sitting on the floor, slumped over the sofa. Worried about her, Hayley says she will take her home in the taxi she has just ordered for herself and Sara. Jan tells her Alex's address. Hayley and Sara bundle Alex into the cab and off they go.

On arriving at Alex's house there is no answer. Hayley knocks loudly. Then, feeling sure Alex's husband is home, shouts through the letter box. After a few further shouts, the taxi driver suggests that perhaps enough is enough and that if she doesn't desist the police are more likely to appear than Alex's husband.

And so it was that at approximately 2.15am I was woken by strange noises coming from downstairs. These turned out to be Hayley, Sara and the taxi driver carrying Alex into the house and onto our sofa. I tried to go back to sleep but Alex's snoring was so loud, even through the floor, that I gave up and came downstairs to see the spectacle. Some time later Sara left and Hayley and I to headed off to bed leaving Alex snoring.

In the morning I got up with the kids and loitered a while upstairs in the hope our visitor might be gone by the time the kids came downstairs. But it wasn't to be. So Alex was woken by two inquisitive little faces at about 8am. She handled it all remarkably well and was up and playing with them in no time. I got her a cup of tea and some toast, by which time Hayley had joined us.

We recounted the previous evening's events to her, enjoying the unique and sinful pleasure of telling someone what they did when too drunk to recall anything the next day. We got to the bit about shouting through her letter box.

Alex: "What number house did you go to?"
Hayley: "Number 6. Jan told us which it was."
Alex: "We live at number 3."
Me (laughing): "Did you get on with the people at number 6 before last night?!"
Alex: "Number 6 is the home of your Member of Parliament."

Oh dear.

I'm sure she couldn't have been in. She's a busy MP. She'll have got the train back on Saturday morning.... Except that in reality she is normally back on Friday.


I'm sure you aren't reading this Ann, but if you are, we all apologise humbly for any additional stress we may have caused. (Oh and thanks for the reply about Gaza.)