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 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...?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Missing: Big Julien

Oliver aged 4 months with Big Julien.

The unthinkable finally happened. We have lost Big Julien.

Anyone who knows us or has read this blog for a while will know that Big Julien is Oliver's favourite soft toy that he has had since he was 10 days old and which has been his comforter ever since we took away his dummy when still a baby. Even these days if he gets upset he will ask for Big Julien. Not to mention the fact that he still cuddles up with him to go to sleep every night. You only have to search my Flickr photos for "Julien" to see how Oliver and Julien have been inseparable from the daay he appeared.

Well, on Friday Big Julien was taken to a local playgroup and was last seen sitting on a chair there. It appears he never made it home. Consequently, last night Oliver went to bed without him for the first time in ages. And the preceding times were when he could be fooled by the "spare" that we had especially brought over from the States. But since he cottoned on to my deception this spare has really only been a minor player in Oliver's life, largely ignored.

There was the small comfort that we still have Baby Julien (a smaller version) that he has had for quite a while, but even so, last night was punctuated with questions about where Big Julien was and it was the first thing he asked this morning.

Hayley has been to the church where the playgroup is held and searched the store room, but to no avail. I fear Oliver may have dropped him as he got into the car and someone has picked him up, taking him away rather than handing him in to the church (where the car was parked).

Of course it is still within the realms of possibility that he will turn up, even here at home (though we have turned the place upside down so I'm probably kidding myself). Oliver did claim at one point yesterday to have brought him home, but I think this was more wishful thinking than fact, as he said he was at playgroup on other occasions.

Hayley and I are gutted. I feel sick sometimes when I think of how he has lost his number one comfort.

On the bright side, he did sleep reasonably well last night and today has gone to bed with Baby Julien and Big Julius (the name of the spare) without much concern. However, the time will come when he gets upset and wants Big Julien. I really hope we find him before then, but as time goes on I'm running out of hope.

Of course to my 4 year old son this is a terribly serious matter. But it has served to illustrate something else to me. Having watched a documentary about the 18-year long kidnapping of Jaycee Lee Dugard on TV last night, I can barely start to imagine the horror of what her parents experienced. I keep looking in the car expecting to find my son's favourite toy and then feeling sick when it's not there. How much more mind-numbingly awful must it be to keep looking in hope for your child.

Having said that, of course here in the UK we have been witnesses to the unfolding tale of Madeleine McCann, whose abduction was so shocking and omnipresent on our TV screens in the days after it happened that I couldn't find words to say that weren't already all around us. In fact I've never commented on it in this blog for that reason: it has all been said. It is an intolerable nightmare that somehow the McCanns must live through for the sake of their other two children.

So it may not be the end of the world that Big Julien is missing, but it has had more impact than you might at first think in our household.

Oliver earlier this year with Big Julien and Big Julius.

Saturday snap


Just the cutest little lady in the world. Even (or perhaps that should be especially) when she has stolen and put on her big brother's trainers.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

BBC NEWS | Health | Daily sweets 'linked to violence'

BBC NEWS | Health | Daily sweets 'linked to violence'

This report makes me feel somewhat vindicated (and less cruel) in pushing my kids to eat fruit rather than sweets and in telling them to wait close to mealtimes rather than snack (given the believed link to delayed gratification).