Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hayley's Hen Weekend


Hayley spent this weekend with about 20 female friends in Manchester. Her Hen weekend started at lunchtime on Saturday and ran through to early afternoon the following day. Meanwhile your truly had sole charge of our offspring. I was a little nervous about it, not because I lacked confidence in my abilities to care for and entertain our children, but because Lucy is very clingy with Hayley and I feared her prolonged distress at her absence.

In the event, although she did ask for Hayley a lot - and a couple of times when tired or perhaps hungry got very upset, asking for Mummy repeatedly - she seemed happy to put up with having only me, especially as I tended to her every need and wish to try to make up for Mummy's absence.

As soon as Hayley had gone, I fed them both and introduced them to the joys of fresh, whole peaches. A success.



Then we ventured to the park where we met a husband of a fellow hen-night absentee (on Hayley's do) and our kids played happily, racing up and down the tennis court until exhausted.

Both kids went to bed without protest and slept pretty well, so in the morning I took them up to see my sister, who has a boy a few months younger than Lucy. We had a good time up there and as Hayley texted me to say she was very tired after getting to bed at 5am, I didn't return home til 5pm when we all went off to Pizza Hut. The kids were delighted to have Mummy back, especially Lucy who had a smile a mile wide when she saw her.

And as for what the girls got up to in Manchester? Well, I couldn't get much out of Hayley. She did say that she was quite emotional when she got to the restaurant and saw the place=mats that Sara and I had created with lots of pictures of her (the most embarrassing we could find!). And the Bird Cage was apparently wall to wall hen parties. Anyway she seems to have had a good time.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mountain Mayhem 2009 (incorporating Father's Day)


This year, after the wash-out of 12 months ago, I decided to sit out the racing at Mountain Mayhem 2009 and instead to go along for the spectacle. As well as offering a little encouragement to those friends who were still riding, it gave me the chance to take Oliver camping for the first time.

We decided Lucy was a bit young, not so much for her own good as much as the for the riders who would need their sleep on Saturday night and certainly wouldn't get it should Lucy decide she wanted to stay awake.

So last Friday evening I packed the car with camping essentials and Oliver and I headed off to Eastnor Castle Deer Park in the Malverns.

We got there just before sunset and I piled our things into the tent. Oliver played happily with my friend Dave's son, Lewis, who he has met a couple of times before. With all the unpacking and reunions with people we tend only to see at this gathering, it was 11pm before the little man and I hit the sack. He wasn't keen at first, complaining that he didn't want to go to bed, but once in the tent he was fine.

It rained for several hours in the night but we woke to a day that was to be marked by spells of very warm sunshine and just a single shower.


After a breakfast of shreddies, Oliver and Lewis took up where they had left off playing the night before and it quickly became apparent that they got on very well, playing with characters, role-playing (pretending to be fireman in our cars) and generally making a bit more mess with our limited supplies of water than we'd have liked as they made swimming pools for their animal characters.


On a whim, and without much real expectation, both myself and Lewis's Dad had taken the boys' Cnoc bikes.


"Perhaps we'll have them both riding before the weekend is out" I had joked on Thursday. Well, blow me down: we did! We had a large gently sloping area of grass next to our camping pitch and I pushed Oliver gently down it, running with him before letting go.... and he carried on pedalling and steering himself! I was absolutely thrilled. I told Oliver how proud I was of him and made a big fuss of him. Of course he didn't think half of much of it as me!

Later, I managed to persuade him to let me film him short clip of him to show Hayley. He wasn't very keen by this point but at least it shows him riding unaided.

While the boys had lunch, Dave and I went to ride some demo bikes: a Whyte E-120 and a Whyte titanium hardtail that retailed at over £3100! To be fair it felt like three grands worth of bike: light as a feather and fast! We rode a test track up and down hill for 45 minutes before chatting with one of the Whyte designers.

By now the race start was approaching. I took Oliver (who had eaten very little while I was riding) for a second chance of lunch at the cafe, which we finished just before the start.


Then it was back to our campsite for an afternoon full of riding bikes - mostly his Rothan for Oliver which spared my back pushing him - playing with the other kids there, chucking frisbees, leaving me even a little time to strum my ukulele!

Oliver was also rather fascinated by the fresh scar carried by fellow camper Gary who had recently dropped a hedge trimmer on his lower shin. Oliver even took pleasure in touching the stitches (or whatever they really are nowadays - more like little fancy band-aid strips).

I made the little man some ham sandiwches for dinner and he played on until about 9pm. I have never known him have a more active day. He was running or (push-)cycling around all evening. When he finally cleaned his teeth and went to bed he was asleep in a 2 minutes flat.

I stayed up a while longer, watching the lights of the riders pass by on the nearby climb and was also rewarded with a display of lanterns being sent up from the neighbouring Eastnor castle. There must have been over fifty of them. Very atmospheric if not a little ghostly as they floated up into the darkness of the summer night.

Sunday saw us rise around 7am and do not too much. We ambled over and watched kids climbing the climbing wall brought by the army and Oliver had an ice-cream after having an early lunch. After that we headed off home to enjoy Father's Day with Hayley and Lucy.

On the way home, Oliver told me he liked camping. And he clearly had fun with Lewis. In fact when Lewis's Mum asked him what had he done that weekend that was really great, instead of saying "I rode my bike" as she had expected, he told her "me and Lewis are best friends".

I had a great weekend with the little man. It's one I know I'll always look back on fondly. Not just for him riding his bike for the first time, but for other moments like him choosing to fall asleep holding my hand as he lay beside me in the tent on Saturday night. You can't buy memories like that.


(There are some more pictures from the weekend here.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

TV: a battleground

Family under the microscope: June 6 2009 | Life and style | The Guardian

For some time now our son has been asking to watch television with increasing frequency. Sometimes it seems he would happily sit and watch it all afternoon. OK, he generally will get bored and/or start playing with toys at some point, but might still come back and complain if he finds it turned off. In short, he has started to become rather anti-social when given the chance, which is a shame because he is generally a very sociable little guy.

A friend gave us the above article - actually cut from The Guardian, a sure sign of serious intent - and I'm glad she did too, because it has concentrated our already gathering thoughts on this growing TV habit and brought us to action.

At this point you might expect we have thrown away the TV. I hate to disappoint, but no. Perhaps I'll have become grumpy enough to do that in a few years time. Bah humbug.

Instead we have set down a clear rule about TV. Assuming the little guy is well-behaved, he can have one programme (of no more than 30 minutes, though most are more like 20) three times a day: one in the morning anytime after breakfast, one anytime after lunch and one any time after dinner (before we go upstairs for the bath/bedtime wind-down).

In reality he is out much of the time during the week, either at nursery or with Hayley, which eases the battle. Nonetheless, vigilance will be required.

This proposed maximum of three half-hour slots may still sound like a lot to some and it may be we reduce it more, depending on whether we detect any effect from this new regime. You see his mood and behaviour hasn't been the greatest at times recently and we think we detect a link between the increased TV watching and increased moodiness. Certainly our refusal to let him watch TV (even when he's had as much as an hour) has been the spark for some uncharacteristically confrontational behaviour.

It's easy to say from the comfort of an armchair "no TV", but when you wake exhausted from yet another night of broken sleep and your 3 year old climbs into bed in the morning asking for his favourite programme, it is hard to say "no" when you know that tears and the waking of little his sister will ensue. Nonetheless, the early morning TV has gone too. And to be fair he has adjusted to bringing in a book to read or asking to go downstairs where he'll play or have breakfast.

So it's early days, and it may be harder work (and more so for Hayley who is with him during the week), but I don't want to look back in years to come and wonder whether I took an easy option which did him no favours.

Family under the microscope: June 6 2009 | Life and style | The Guardian

The temptation to prop the nipper in front of Teletubbies and finally read Saturday's Family section on Wednesday is both understandable and, if the alternative is screaming at the little lovely out of exhaustion, probably preferable. But the truth is that few of us parents are aware of just how bad television is for their brain - too much is like feeding them mental uranium.

When boys are followed from birth until they are men, even after taking account of the other main causes of violence, like being beaten up or neglected, how much TV and how violent the content they watched as children remains an independent cause of how violent they are as adults.

Television makes us fat yet it also leads to self-starvation and throwing up food. Fiji did not have TV until 1995 and the women favoured a full figure. Not a single case of bulimia had ever been recorded there but within three years of the arrival of TV, 11% of young Fijian women were suffering. They were three times more likely to have developed the illness if they lived in a home with a TV.

Equally, TV causes obesity by increasing torpid inactivity, advertising fatty foods and increased eating while watching. Conclusive proof came from the introduction of TV in China, previously a thin population. Among 10,000 Chinese, the more they watched, the fatter they were. For every extra hour watched, the greater the likelihood of obesity.

It damages health in other ways. A 26-year study of 1,000 children showed that those who watched more than two hours a day between five and 15 were significantly unhealthier years later. Even after allowing for other factors, like social class and parents' habits, they were significantly more at risk of high cholesterol, smoking and unfitness as a direct result of their greater TV watching when young.

TV impairs children's concentration. For every extra hour a day watched, a child is 9% more likely to have attentional difficulties (the core problem in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). To maximise the impact, there are shorter scenes: a study of the pace and editing speed in Sesame Street showed that they had doubled over a 26-year period. The duration of a typical American public service broadcast scene is 70% longer than one in a commercial children's TV show.

By fast-forwarding life into a concentrated rush of exciting events, TV corrupts children's expectations. Key reward chemicals are secreted, such as dopamine, and when the off button is pushed and they go to a school lesson, it's happening too slowly to maintain their interest: they want more, bigger snacks - now.

Children who watch a lot of TV before the age of three learn to fail academically: subsequent scores on maths, reading and comprehension are worse and their exam results are worse when recorded at age 26.

Knowing all this should make you take serious heed of the advice that children should watch no more than one hour a day. Yet the terrifying fact is that the average six-year-old has already spent more than one full year of its life watching TV. Half of three-year-olds have a TV set in their room.

The Department of Health should be mounting massive public-health campaigns to persuade us to watch less but that is unlikely to occur. So even if you are unable stop watching TV yourself (it is nurturing dissatisfaction with your body, your possessions and your lifestyle), today needs to be the first one in which your child only gets to spend an hour watching - and it needs to stay that way.

Review of evidence: Sigman, A, 2007, Biologist, 54, 12-17. See also Sigman, A, 2005, Remotely Controlled, Vermilion. More Oliver James at


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

My brother is my hero

There are times when something so badly needs to be described on this blog that I find myself not writing about it because I want to do it justice. I want the significance of it to be captured. THis post is one such case. But lest the moment pass without me saying anything at all, I'm just going to spit it all out!

It's very simple really. Lucy loves Oliver.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you say, of course she does.

But no I mean she really loves him. She adores him. Hell, she worships the little man! (She even brings him offerings!) In Lucy's world, the pecking order of whom to take notice is:
Anyone with chocolate.

OK, anyone with chocolate probably comes top of the list but you start to get the picture.

You see, whatever Oliver does, Lucy will do. In fact she feels compelled to do. Many times recently I have said to her "if he jumped in the river you would too, wouldn't you!"

This mimicry is a double edged sword. When Oliver is good, so is Lucy. And when Oliver is naughty, Lucy is naughty too. She copies his behaviour, his words, his choice of food, his choice of toy, his choice of clothing, everything!

Here are a few examples I came across in pictures to show you what I mean.

"Oliver's on the rocking horse? So am I!"

"Let's cuddle teddies together."

"Is there room for me too Oliver?"

"Dressing up time. Yay!"

"Oliver's eating outside in the playhouse? So am I!"

"Oliver's playing in the garden, so I'll hang out here too."

"I'm not sure why we're sitting in the garden in the cold, looking up at the sky, but if it's good enough for you Oliver..."

"Great idea, let's get into your bed and hide!"

"Let me give you a cuddle while I watch how to clean my teeth."

"My brother Oliver loves apples. I tend to eat a tiny bit, spit out the skin and then hand it back to Daddy, but if Oliver is having one, so am I."

"I like to read with my brother (after making a zillion hand-prints on the TV!)."

"But to be honest, I don't care what my brother does. It's just nice hanging out with him."

And perhaps what is nicest about this is that Oliver loves Lucy too. He can be incredibly kind and thoughtful towards her (even though she can steal his toys and wind him up terribly sometimes). Perhaps that is a big part of why she adores him.

In short, it is beautiful to see how well they get on right now. I know it won't last, at least not like this, but I'd like to think some remnant of it will linger on that will bind them together.