Tuesday, September 29, 2009

BBC NEWS | Health | Working mums' children 'less fit'

BBC NEWS | Health | Working mums' children 'less fit'

It's hard enough for a stay-at-home-Mum to do everything she'd like for her kids, so it doesn't surprise me that it's harder when working.

And this report seems to be across all classes of families.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Daddy's two/three-wheeled taxi

Oliver has a swimming lesson on Sunday mornings and last week when Hayley took Lucy along too the little lady misbehaved the whole time resulting in Hayley being away from the pool area for much of his lesson. (A fellow Mum he knows was was still there so he wasn't worried.)

So this weekend we decided to leave Lucy with me.

After initial protests at realising Mummy was going out without her, she rather morosely slumped onto my shoulder and gave me a disgruntled hug. But I soon cheered her up by getting out her talking parrot which repeats everything you say. As I was late getting up I had some brunch and Lucy joined me for a piece of toast which she also fed to the parrot.


This done, I then took her down to Decathlon to try on winter coats. In the end we didn't buy anything but I got a good idea of the choice and she got to cheekily run away from me every time I said "can you try this on please Lucy".


I also bought her a new bike helmet as she has been using Oliver's cast-off, which is fine but I knew she'd love a pink one and it's always good to have a spare. On the return journey she fell asleep.


She was still asleep when we got home. So I sat with her until she woke up. And although the picture may make her position appear both dangerous and uncomfortable, I can assure you that the seat (a Hamax Siesta) is designed to do that and she woke up in a good mood.


Later, I fulfilled my promise of the night before to take Oliver out on his tag-a-long bike. He, too, wanted to go to Decathlon but this time for a snack and to look at the boats (canoes). Once there he also did some evaluation bounces on the large trampoline. For about 10 minutes in fact, during which time Hayley and Lucy turned up with two other kids and their Mum. So we ended up staying there til the place closed.

When it was time to go Lucy refused and so as an experiment Hayley pretended to leave and then hid behind a car. Lucy did not care one jot. Eventually Hayley gave up and carried the little lady kicking (well, wriggling) and screaming to the car.

On the way home on the tag-a-long bike, Oliver went very quiet and sure enough when I turned round he was looking a bit sleepy. When this happens we get off and walk for a while until we've woken up a bit. It wasn't a problem as we were nearly home anyway.

One last thing about today's bike journey with Oliver. He has grown slightly since the last time he was on the tag-a-long bike and he can now just about pedal properly. And I was amazed to find that when he does it is actually noticable! So I can now look forward to taking things just that little bit easier when we go out for a ride. Just don't tell the little man yet.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Apple picking 2009

Oliver gives this year's crop his seal of approval.

It was about 3 years ago that Hayley and I took Oliver to pick some apples at my Dad's house. Today we took a somewhat bigger Oliver back for a second harvest. But it turned out to be Lucy who was the more enthusiastic apple picker.

I pointed out to my Dad that Oliver loves apples and was our house expert, so he would be tasting the apples and declaring whether they were ready to pick. Dutifully Oliver tried one and anounced: "Hmm Hmmmmm!" (going on to devour all but the core). And so the picking commenced.

Oliver sat on my shoulders and picked a few, but when not on my shoulders was less keen. Lucy on the other hand spotted the step ladders and was up them before you could say "basic rules of safety". She greatly enjoyed picking them from the tree as well as picking up windfalls from the floor and putting them into Granddad's bag.


As for me, back in the playground of my own childhood I was straight up the tree before you could say "bad example to your children" and was soon standing on dubiously thin branches, reaching for the juiciest and reddest apples. I was even brave (read as foolhardy) enough to take a photo of my family while up there.


Once I had gathered my target fruit I gingerly came back down, much in the fashion of a cat that bounds up to the top of a tree only to find that getting down is a whole heap more tricky.

We were also assisted by my sister and her little boy, who tucked into one of our home-grown apples for the first time.


We brought a couple of bags home and will eat/cook them over the coming days. It will be nice for the kids to cook something that they have picked themselves from the tree. I'm thinking apple crumble!

Sadly there seem to be no equivalent Community Harvest schemes such as that in which James in Seattle participated recently. To be honest, in these days of perfect but all-too-uniform looking fruit on the supermarket shelves, I bet most people would turn their noses up at our authentic and sometimes a bit gnarly shaped apples, which is a shame as they are rather delicious. (And big! Lucy and I shared one this morning.)

This year might be the last that we harvest the apples, as my Mum (who owns the land by the way, despite us eating all her fruit!) is selling the land on which the trees stand. So if you have any fruit you want picking next autumn, just give us a call. We have excellent fruit-picking resumes and only require a modest bag-full as payment.


Saturday snap


I went to Tesco with the kids to get some nappies and found an ingenious way to check out the latest TVs in peace.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 3)

"Bantu Stephen Biko, listening to Rico
Harpo, Groucho, Chico"

Or in this case, Groucho, Groucho, Mummy-O!

Actually, we were having a pirate dinner...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Me time, You Time, Without the other Two Time


Turn the pages of any decent book about parenting and family life and you will soon discover some important advice: make some time for yourself.

It's not always easy. Without extended family on our doorstep and with babysitters coming at a price (even if it is as little as the price of a return sitting), it can be hard to get away from the daily routine of work and looking after the kids.

Nonetheless, we do manage to get out together from time to time and even to have a bit of time to ourselves individually.

Sunday morning was a case in point for me. Foregoing my lie-in, I went out to explore the Fallowfield Loop, a disused railway line now repaired to be enjoyed on foot, on horseback or on a bike.

Taking the latter option, I found a largely off-road route to reach the loop. Setting off before 9am, I was rewarded within minutes by the sun burning through what had been a chill misty morning. I was out for a couple of hours, exploring ways to link up with other trails I know.

Once home, I showered and got ready for another treat: going to the Manchester derby at Old Trafford. It turned out to be a 4-3 thriller with United winning in the dying seconds having three times thrown away the lead.

Returning from the game it was back to family life and the birthday party of one of Oliver's friends. But seeing my family again was all the more enjoyable for the little time to indulge my own pursuits.

It's a constant battle to make a little time - and a little money - to go out and do things that re-assert who we are a a couple and individually. Not much time is needed, but needed it still is. Time to please ourselves, be ourselves... Time enough to miss the kids a little and hopefully appreciate them a little more too.

BBC NEWS | England | Cambridgeshire | Killer mother jailed for 33 years

BBC NEWS | England | Cambridgeshire | Killer mother jailed for 33 years


Monday, September 21, 2009

Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 2)

  • I cycled to work today.

  • Today, like every day for about the last week, was dry and at least occasionally sunny. And tomorrow looks about the same!

  • When I came home tonight I looked through the window at my family having dinner. As soon as Lucy noticed me she shouted "Daddyyyyyyyyyyy!!!" at the top of her voice, quickly followed by Oliver.

  • After dinner this evening Oliver sat on the table next to the TV in his Superman outfit eating an apple, watching Mama Mia and singing along with some gusto. I went over and put my arm round him and he hugged my cheek to his as he sang.

  • Before leaving for work this morning Hayley told Lucy that her dolly (another one she's named "Mama") needed changing. Lucy laid her on the little doll's quilt and changed the (size 1) nappy that she had on. She also feeds her dolls and sings to them. For all that her way of communicating can involve screaming at times, she is a very, very loving little girl.

  • At the end of every bath, when Oliver gets out, he plays what is now a very well established standing joke. I kneel down and lift him from the bath. Before I can get the towel round him he starts to climb onto my knees with his feet before wrapping his arms and legs around me. As I ask him in mock horor "what are you doing, you'll get me all wet?", he says laughing, "I'm just giving you a hug". Hugs are never refused in our house. Consequently he semi-soaks me, but every time he does it I can't help laughing. It shouldn't be funny by now but the joy of his laughter and of that big hug are still funny to both of us.

  • Lucy likes to help. This includes helping me shave with my electric shaver, making a cup of tea, buttering toast and carrying a very heavy bag of fish and chips all the way to the car last Friday, telling me sternly "My do it!" every time I tried to help even a little.

  • Oliver seems to be looking forward to his third session at his new nursery tomorrow which includes taking a packed lunch.

  • Hayley is loving watching the concluding episode of "Waking The Dead" on telly tonight.

  • Seeing me sitting next to Oliver this evening on the sofa, Lucy was not content until she had first positioned herself on the other side and then on my lap, facing away from me. She then played a game which first involved lying back on my shoulder so her hair and face were next to mine, before rolling off me onto the sofa when I tickled her. This game was repeated for some time.

  • Oliver loves a back-scratch.

  • Lucy loves drinking (very diluted) tea.

  • I can go to bed tonight grateful for a happy, healthy family, tucked up safely in our own home.
  • BBC NEWS | UK | Young 'should not touch animals'

    BBC NEWS | UK | Young 'should not touch animals'

    I think the advice to wash hands is crucial here. Both kids went to a birthday patry at an animnal petting farm a few weeks ago, but built in to the afternoon agenda was the children washing their hands before eating and after they had been touring the farm.

    Thursday, September 17, 2009

    Long-distance Dad?

    In life we make choices (if we are lucky enough to be able to do so). I choose to work near my home. I do so because I want to be able to come home and see my family at the end of each day (and sometimes the start too). With my current home and job I can even come home for lunch sometimes.

    Not everybody makes this choice. I have a colleague who chooses to work hundreds of miles from his home because he can earn a higher rate of pay (as a contractor). The down side is that his 3 year old son cries his heart out on Sunday when his father has to leave and continues to cry "for hours" after he has left. His son even panics when his father goes to the shop, for fear he will not come back.

    So why does he do this to his son? He does it because he wants to get a private education for him. He figures that the lack of his father in his current day-to-day life will be compensated for by the benefit of a private education later.

    Is he right?

    I don't know with certainty, but clearly my strong instinct, backed up by some reading of research literature, is that the better choice is to give my kids the gift of time now rather than spend more on their education later. Certainly I have lots of anecdotal evidence, even from within my own company, that fathers who choose to work away from their families when their children are young, often later regret this decision.

    Perhaps a hidden downside of being away from your kids is that you lose touch with the realities of who they are and where they are in their development. I heard my contractor colleague say that his daughter, who is one year old, wouldn't care whether he is there or not. My own experience would suggest that this is unlikely to be true. I suspect he might be underestimating his daughter's ability to have her own preferences, including that of deciding who is most important to her. Perhaps he would see that more if he was at home more often.

    I'm not saying that as a criticism, just my opnion and not a firm one at that. I'm genuinely interested to know how important other parents think it is to see their kids through the week on a daily (or near daily) basis.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    New nursery - Day 2

    I took the little man to his second day at his new nursery today. As the time approached for me to take him, we discovered we didn't have enough car seats for me to take him to nursery and for Hayley to do her school runs. So I took him on his bike. It's not an ideal place for him to get to on his bike, as some of the pavements are a little on the narrow side for my liking. But I shepherded him along the way and there were plenty of lollipop men along the way to help us cross the roads. And of course I was proud of him for riding to nursery.

    Oliver and I had already talked about me staying with him to play for a little while this morning and then leaving. And that's exactly how it panned out. Just like yesterday, after a short inspection of the astronaut characters he headed directly to the garden and onto a trike. His new friend Billie was there and he quickly started to play with him and a few others.

    When he didn't re-appear from behind the trees on his trike to where I was chatting to Billie's Mum, I went to see whether the time had come for me to leave. When I mentioned to him I might go and that Mummy would be coming after snack-time he just said "OK Daddy" and started to run off to play. Wanting to say goodbye properly and to be sure he understood, I called him back for a kiss and said goodbye to him. Again, off he went without a care in the world. Result!

    I found out later that they sang Happy Birthday to him at snack-time and let him choose a birthday present. He also got to give out cake to the children with another little girl whose birthday they also celebrated today. What a great start to his new nursery life.

    As with his old nursery, some things don't change. Trying to get meaningful information out of him about his day is still as hard. Let's hope the staff can help us out a little on that score.

    The ony down-side about today was that I had to walk home carrying his bike and was made more late when I discovered Hayley's car was dead. A very small price to pay for such a positive start to my day.

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    First day at new nursery

    Oliver ready to head off to nursery (once he puts his drink down).

    Today Oliver started at his new nursery. We decided to change after a year at his previous nursery for a couple of reasons. Firstly it would give him a new environment and he wouldn't have to repeat the year he's just finished (enjoyable as it might have been). Secondly, this nursery always gets fantastic reviews from every parent we speak to as well as from Ofsted.

    This morning's first "settling in" session was 2 hours long and a parent was obliged to stay. As Hayley was going to have Lucy plus two chilminding kids on her hands at the time he was to start, I jumped at the chance to go along with him.

    He has been very upbeat about starting this new chapter and so we haven't made too big a deal of it. He will know a few children there but none of them very close friends with whom he often has playdates. But none of that seemed to bother him last night when I told him I was coming with him. He simply relpied, "But I'm a big boy Daddy, you can drop me off."

    We walked there, just the two of us, and on arrival met his friend Harry who attends the same swimming lessons. I also pointed out a couple of other familiar faces.

    Once inside he met one of his two teachers, found his name and hung up his bag. Then after a few minutes playing with some astronaut characters, he asked to go outside. He knows this place because he used to go there with Hayley as it ran a child-minder drop-in last year. So he was well aware that outside it has a good sized garden into which they have built some mini-roads along which a variety of trikes and scooters are available to ride.

    He played outside for a good hour, giving another boy a ride on one of the trikes with a rear seat and also playing on the climbing frame. There he also met his other teacher (who turned out to be the wife of a former colleague of mine).

    I was given forms to fill in (so late in the session due to the number of people attending this morning that I had to take them away to bring back tomorrow) and Oliver sat down with his group for snack time. As he had been all morning, he remained chatty. To my surprise he chose milk as his drink rather than water (something he rarely does at home, so rarely in fact that I don't usually bother offering him milk any more) and also had a segment of orange (which didn't surprise me as he enjoyed that in Spain).

    Another teacher, whom Oliver knows from his previous visits, also made a point of seeking him out, which was nice. (She also asked about the wedding which was thoughtful of her.)

    After snack time there was time for him to play a little longer. He made a small drawing and stuck sellotape to it, taking it to show his teacher as we left. Both teachers and several parents commented on how he wasn't having any problems settling in, but for all the loud and excited fun he had today, I'm very aware that he knew I was around, even though I was mostly just chatting to other parents.

    This evening he told Hayley he wanted to go back to his old nursery, which is understandable as his friends are there. He also told me that he wanted me to stay tomorrow when he goes again, which could be awkward as I haven't booked time off. In theory I can't afford to stay more than about 15 minutes, but if he's upset I will stay on as long as needed, as work are usually pretty understanding, not to mention I'll more than make up the hours and would be no use to my company worrying about my son. (At the end of the day I work to look after my family so it's a "no brainer", to use an expression they'd understand.)

    Encouragingly though, at the park this afternoon he met the boy who sat next to him at snack-time this morning and then, despite not having even spoken to him this morning, played with him for the rest of the time in the park.

    I hope and and am quietly optimistic that Oliver will settle into what seems a very good environment for him. He will be one of the oldest boys in his year when he goes to school, but despite that I think this extra year will be good for him. And just as importantly, I think he will enjoy it.

    Sunday, September 13, 2009

    First swimming lesson

    A few days after enjoying his recent holiday where he spent lots of time in the sea and pool, we took Oliver for his first swimming lesson where neither Mummy nor Daddy were in the water. Instead we sat at poolside (very close in fact) along with Lucy and other parents.

    Rather than have his usual arm bands they use three polystyrene hoops on each arm, allowing them to be taken away one by one over time I assume. Later Oliver told me they were rings from the fingers of a giant. Perhaps this ties in with his favourite water-based game while on holiday which involved me wading through waist deep water with Oliver on my back chasing a giant, only to deliberately trip up after a few paces, splashing us both into the water.

    His first lesson was with two friends, Jack and Harry. Oliver has known Jack since they were both babies so he was completely comfortable about it. In fact, Harry got very upset at first so someone else gave him his lesson separately, leaving Jack and Oliver in a private lesson for two given by the owner herself. She did a great job and the boys both loved the lesson which involved lots of splashing, getting used to having their faces in the water, swimming after plastic toys and even swimming through a partially (in fact mostly) submerged hoop. Oh and at the end they had to jump in from the side: like that was going to be a problem!

    I didn't go to today's (second) lesson, but Hayley assures me that Oliver had great fun again and at the end was the only one who would jump into the pool with no-one to catch him. What a little star.

    Friday, September 11, 2009

    Now and then

    Three years before our honeymoon in Sant Elm and two days after Oliver's first birthday, we took Oliver to the same location. This lead to many opportunities on the honeymoon to reflect on how our adorable baby has grown into a beautiful boy.

    The last time we came to Sant Elm he was crawling around the apartment in nappies, pointing at things and saying "diss!". This time he was taking himself to the bathroom and saying "Go away please I need some privacy" if I tried to check on him.

    Yes, he really is growing up fast.

    So inevitably, I found myself revisiting old locations and reflecting on how he has grown. But of course it is not just Oliver. Our whole family has grown. Three years ago there was no Lucy (not even a bumpette).

    Here are a few pictorial illustrations of my reflections.

    At the airport
    Precious luggage!

    On the beach
    Oliver on the beach

    In the sea
    Oliver in the water

    At the playground
    Oliver in playground (Port Andratx)

    Playing trains
    Oliver in playground (Port Andratx)

    On the bus
    We're on the bus!

    What can I say. They grow up so fast! But every now and then I do manage to stop and smell the roses. And man they smell good.

    How not to catch a flight

    As I said in my post about the honeymoon, on our last day we packed up and waited for our pre-paid taxi to the airport.

    And waited. And waited.

    Eventually I rang the number of the company we had booked with, only to get a recorded message saying "use the website to contact us". I found another number in the small print, rang them and discovered they were sending a taxi to pick us up at the time the flight took off. Once I explained this to them, they sent another taxi. This one didn't turn up either. It turned out it had broken down on the steep hill between Sant Elm and Andratx. So in the 30 degree heat I sprinted to order another taxi from the hotel, then ran back up the hill. This taxi arrived 15 minutes later and we boarded, using a cushion from my Mum's apartment as a booster seat for Lucy. By now we were over an hour late.

    But we had no Euros to pay this new taxi. The driver spoke no English at all. On route, I phoned the original taxi company who said they would send a driver to the airport to pay for this new taxi and who would hold up a sign to identify himself. I also rang a Spanish speaking friend of my Mum's in case this fell through. Meanwhile in the back seat Hayley was feeling sick having had a temperature of 101F all day and was consequently holding a nappy bag open in her hand. It didn't help that Lucy was out of her seat and lying on her chest, Hayley trying to keep her under her seat belt.

    Arriving at the airport there was no-one to be seen with a sign. By this point we had about 10 minutes to find our check-in desk (of which there are over 100) and check in. Phoning my Spanish speaking friend I asked her to tell our driver that I would pay 60 pounds sterling which was worth much more than the 56 Euro fair. Unfortunately she told him it was worth less! By the time I realised what was going on and grappled the phone back off the driver, the driver from the first company thankfully appeared and saved us by paying up.

    We sprinted off to our check in desk getting there with all of 5 minutes to spare. After that it was all plain sailing really. OK, so we had packets of crisps for our dinner with dessert of about a zillion snacks on the plane, but at least we made it home, where (despite loving Mallorca) Oliver and Lucy were clearly pleased to be back amongst their familiar toys again. And we collapsed into our familiar old bed.

    Thursday, September 10, 2009



    The usual bedtime routine involves Lucy comingg into Oliver's room (sometimes carried by Mummy, sometimes under her own steam and/or alone) saying "night night" to Oliver and I as she gives us kisses before heading off to her room for her bottle of bedtime milk with Mummy.

    This evening however, Oliver asked whether he could help give Lucy her milk. It's a measure of how much Lucy loves her brother that she agreed to this new arrangement, albeit temporary.

    BBC NEWS | Africa | SA pigeon 'faster than broadband'

    BBC NEWS | Africa | SA pigeon 'faster than broadband'

    I sincerely hope that in the not too distant future this story looks as unbelievable and dated as it does funny today.

    Tuesday, September 08, 2009

    Oliver's 4th Birthday


    Today Oliver is four years old. Although last year he understood his birthday, this year he has anticipated it more, making it more exciting for all of us. (In fact Lucy had been singing Happy Birthday to him even before the big day arrived.)

    He got up and we all sat in bed singing Happy Birthday to him before watching TV for a while as we came round. Then we all went downstairs to see him open his presents from us. He has consistently asked for one present in particular which thankfully Hayley managed to get hold of after some searching: a stretchy Scoobie Doo (pictured above). He loved it.

    I stayed home as late as I could before going to work, returning in time for his party at Anchors Away at 4pm. It struck me how odd it might seem to him that 20+ of his friends, who he normally only sees at most 3 or 4 at a time, all turn up at the same time and place. But he didn't seem phased.

    As well as playing happily on all the equipment the establishment had to offer, they all enjoyed a sit-down party dinner complete with ice-cream dessert. This was followed by singing Happy Birthday to Oliver and presenting him with his cake. I just caught on film him blowing out the candles.

    Then it was time for pass the parcel before more play.

    By the time he went to bed he was out like a light. But on the way home he told Hayley, quite unprompted, "I had a great party Mummy. Thank you."

    There are more photos from the day here.

    Friday, September 04, 2009

    The Honeymoon


    A few days after the wedding, when our American guests had flown back over the pond, we jetted off to spend a little over a week on the beautiful Spanish island of Mallorca in the Mediterranean Sea. We stayed in the little town (perhaps even a village) of Sant Elm on its west coast, where my Mum has an apartment which she kindly loaned to us for the week.

    Oliver and Lucy enjoyed the flight (unlike the 2-year old in front of them who screamed and fought against being strapped in until we were well and truly airborne).
    Hayley and I particularly enjoyed it as Hayley ordered us a bottle of Champagne to celebrate the start of our honeymoon.




    By the time we had landed, got a 40 minute taxi-ride to the apartment and unpacked (not to mention moving all the breakables onto higher shelves), we were definitely ready to eat. So we headed to Tigy's, a great little pizzeria overlooking the beach.



    The next morning it was time to head into the sea. We went to the smaller of the two beaches (separated by only 50 yards where a hotel fronts onto the sea) which is shallow for a long way out: perfect for the kids. They loved it. Oliver attempted to befriend every other family bathing there, but as most of them were German, only the adults understood him. Bless him, he didn't really understand why the kids didn't talk to him. Not that it worried him much. We had a wail of a time.




    Sant ELm is a fairly quiet little town so there's not that much to do and at lunchtime it was pretty hot, even on the beach. So most days we tended to go back to the apartment for some lunch and hang out there for a while til it got cooler. My Mum had kindly left the Sky box so Oliver had his kids TV. But he was also quite happy playing. Without almost all his usual toys he made characters out of snorkel tubes and other bits and bobs lying around. Lucy would have a nap or play too. Then in late afternoon we'd head off for another cooling swim.

    A couple of days we went over to Port Andratx. On one occasion we took the 4pm boat, which gavce us chance to admire the fabulous villas of the jet set and Hollywood stars, their houses hanging off the tops of the cliffs, looking out to sea.


    One day we took out a pedalo. Lucy had wanted to look more closely at the boats ever since arriving, often pointing at the biggest mtor yachts in the bay and saying "I want go that one". Once out beyond the cordoned off swimming area, we all got into the water where we could see we were surrounded by fish. Despite being way out of their depth, the kids loved it. Even Lucy bobbed about unaided at times (though one of us was always right beside her in case her arm bands didn't give her all he assurance she needed).


    Later in the holiday we discovered a swimming pool that we could use. The sea is great, but after a while sand gets everywhere and the water there is very salty, so a freshwater pool made a nice change, especially with a bar serving food and drinks right next to it.


    This was also the site of some evening entertainment for the kids. A young woman would set up a CD player and speaker and do sings and dances with the kids for half an hour.


    The heat and disrupted bed-times did mean that the kids didn't sleep the best. Lucy seemed happy to forego sleep, going to bed hours later than usual then rising as bright as a bird at her usual 6am! But this lack of a sure routine meant that even though we had a frined who would babysit, we never got to go out as a couple for an evening. But we can't really complain, as once the kids were on bed we sat on the balcony having a nice cold drink, watching the boats in the bay as the light in the sky slowly dimmed.


    By the time the holiday was coming to an end, we figured we had pretty much sussed how to get the best out of the facilities available to us. But all good things must come to an end. So we packed up and waited for our pre-paid taxi to the airport.... but that's worth a post in its own right.

    (There are more pictures from our honeymoon here.)