Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Firing Line

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Next year everyone is invited to our place again!

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



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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"We'll have a little party" she said

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Diagnosis - dodgy tummy

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

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

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

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

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

The only way is up


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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Living by numbers

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

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

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

Little things mean a lot

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

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

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

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

Happy helpers

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Saturday, December 19, 2009

We interrupt this programme...

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

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

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

So here are a few rather random bits and bobs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    Oliver's Christmas Concert


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

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

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

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


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

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