Y Viva Espana

In which our reluctant hero scrapes off the factor fifty and is absolutely delighted at being home from holidays. Or something.

“Why do holidays have to end, Dad?”

This is a very good question which, after fifty-one hours back in the drizzle and freezing dirge of a grey and miserable Blighty, I’m finding myself ponder, and struggle to answer, more and more. Perhaps it’s simply because I love Wolverhampton in the springtime? Yeah, that. Probably.

I guess that the obvious answer to satisfy a small child is that it’s nice to have something to look forward to. Simples, yes?

More complicated answers could include;

  • Almost certain bankruptcy if we stay away anywhere for more than a couple of months. Even at the local Travel Tavern.
  • The cats will be really cross if someone doesn’t put another tin of meat derivative flavoured chunks in jelly in their bowls soon.
  • Spain will declare a national emergency due to shortages of Don Simon Vino Tinto and Churros if we had stayed much longer.

Me expanding by similar proportions to those that the cats will shrink by is one thing. Not desirable, but meh. Who cares? But, sadly, it turns out that there’s no magic money tree in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean either, unless it is cunningly disguised as a large pineapple and we missed it. So, with grumpy-face selfies and a landfill site’s worth of washing, back we came. Down with this sort of thing.

In some ways, being a grown-up is great. You don’t need to buy any new music for starters. (I’m listening to Baader Meinhof while typing this on a train. Niche, maybe, but new enough, eh pop-pickers?) You also get to be passively aggressively rude to eedjits at work, and eat leftover Lamb Madras for breakfast if you like, just because you can.

In other ways it’s rubbish. Jobs, houses, money. Middle age. Bits of your torso starting to drop off and an unhealthy desire to start ironing bed linen. This is all adult nonsense that the kids, thankfully, don’t need to worry about. They don’t know that they’re born.

Don’t get me wrong – I have no desire to relive childhood, or even my teen years for that matter, again. Which is just as well as it’s unlikely to happen unless I catch a quite nasty dose of the Benjamin Buttons, a disease that has less to do with chocolate rabbits than you would expect. Or is that Jargon Aphasia? I always get those two Myxomatosised up.

Home again and, after two days back at work, I’m ready for another holiday.

But we have nothing booked, so there’s nothing currently in the “things to look forward to” jar. We’re also stuck with having to do summer holidays during those pesky school holidays for the first time. This means forking out as much for a weekend in Center Parcs or Pontins as you would need to buy a small family hatchback, as all parents know.

It’s back to work again then. Another lifetime spent chained to a chipboard desk wrestling with a heavy pen. Working for the man, or the “Ma’am” in my case. Forever. Possibly longer. Again.

Or is it?

Fortunately, I have a plan. I returned home with about eighteen euros worth of the funny foreign money hidden in my underpants. By my reckoning that’ll be worth about ten million quid in a couple of years time. After which it will be time to superglue a sombrero to my head and invest in shares in Ambre Solaire.

Will it work? Of course it will.

Every dog must have his lucky day, that’s why I’ve learnt the way to shout “¡Olé!”

Fin.

Advertisements

April Tomfoolery Day. Or Something.

In which we learn that our reluctant hero always gets up early for a reason.

A pinch and a punch for the first of the month. Eek… It’s April Fools Day again folks.

Did everybody make it to midday without being duped by some excellent jape or tomfoolery? Of course you didn’t.

What was it this year? Cling film over the toilet? Liam Gallagher on Strictly, perhaps? Or the EU announcing that all new European passports are going to be blue? I do hope that one turns out to be true.

I, unlike you gullible Fools, did, mainly as I don’t believe anything that anybody says to me. Ever. Especially when it’s three and five-year olds banging on about chocolate crocodiles roaming the roads near Maspalomas Lighthouse all morning, and part of the afternoon. The jokes are on you, kids. Well, those made after lunch at least.

Anyway, to mark this not-all-that-special-at-all occasion, I have unearthed some interesting facts about April Fools Day from the internet and the far depths of my noggin, all of which are, of course, 100% bonafide. Probably.

  • Arguably the most famous British April Fool of all time ever was concocted by those notorious japesters at the BBC who, in 1957, broadcast an episode of Panorama featuring the spaghetti farmers of Ticino, Switzerland. It is of course easy to mock, knowing now that it is linguine grown there.
  • It is not known for sure where the name “April” derives, but a popular belief is that its origins lie in the Latin word “aperire” meaning “to open.” The King James Bible adds weight to this explanation, pointing out that first day that Jesus was allowed to open his Easter eggs usually falls within it.
  • Those wacky jokers, The French, started the custom of playing tricks on April 1st during the mid 1500’s, or at about half past three in new money. At this time, there was a shift away from the Julian calendar, having the New Year in April, to the current Gregorian calendar, crazily placing New Year in January. Many French people refused to adhere to the shift as they preferred their months to run alphabetically, and it is from this ridiculous behaviour that the term “April Fool” derives.
  • Staying in France, an “April Fools” joke is known as “Poisson d’Avril” which, translated, means “Bovril Fish.”
  • After years of falling for the old same trick of having his shoelaces together and face-planting into meatballs, chips and a half melted Daim Bar, Swedish cobbler Olaf Proli took dramatic action in 1937 and invented the slip-on shoe.
  • Playing an April Fools trick after midday in the shires of Wolverhamptonshire not only means that you receive a pithy tweet from a local Tory councillor, but a bizarre local by-law means that the offence is also punishable by drowning in the local paddling pool.
  • Oscar-winning actress Whoopi Goldberg will be forever associated with April Fools shenanigans after inventing the Whoopee Cushion on 1st April 1968 while trying to trick her visiting grandfather.

And that pretty much covers things. Other notable hoaxes include Burger King’s left-handed Whopper, finding of the body of the Loch Ness monster, and 2016’s classic “We send the EU £350 million a week – let’s fund our NHS instead” which seemingly fooled over half of Blighty. And it wasn’t even made up in April. Comedy genius. Probably.

Fin.

The Special Ones

In which our reluctant hero discovers that his children may be the new Mozart. Or something.

It has been another busy week. A week busier than Mr Busy preparing his busy bees for the Busy Bee Championships in Busy Town.

Busy, but not quite as busy as last week, during which I was so busy that I forgot to drop the typewriters off with the monkeys who normally churn this weekly guff into the big blog bin in the sky. A missed deadline for the second time in almost two years. Eek! No blog, no matter. Nobody noticed.

Buried in the busyness was Parents’ Evening. Parents LOVE Parents’ Evening day almost as much as the teachers. Probably.

For most, it’s a day spent scratching parental chins while trying to muddle through the logistical nightmare of drop-offs and collections, fitting some work in, turning up at the allocated appointments at the right times and managing a couple of moany people who are bored and want their tea.

Not me though.

“Which appointments would you like, sir?”

“17:10 for Nursery, and 17:20 for Reception, please.”

“All booked, sir.”

“Thank you. What do you fancy for tea?”

Being married to the lady booking the appointments definitely has its perks.

As usual, there was nothing to worry about. We were told that, despite being born in Wolverhampton, the boy is “talented” and the girl “gifted.” Of course they are. Would you expect anything less?

Later that evening, I decided to look up the definitions of their brilliance. No, really. It was either that or watch MasterChef. Whoever decided that putting greengrocers on telly was a good idea needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

talented

adjective

having a natural aptitude or skill for something.

“a talented young musician”

gifted
adjective

having exceptional talent or natural ability.

“a gifted amateur musician”

Interesting. Whatever the kids are doing musically at school doesn’t seem to be making it home. While the odd blast of a tune from Mary Poppins or Mr Tumble no longer causes perforated eardrums, I’m not totally convinced that fame and fortune is just around the corner. Still, well done all!

Buoyed by an unexpected shower of praise rather than his usual five hundred or so tellings off, the talented one upped his game. A few days later he earned a “Wow Moment” for getting dressed all by himself. He took it to school to stick in his big scrapbook, as you do.

With independence comes freedom. In this case the freedom to go to school with your trousers on back-to-front. On my watch too. Oh, the shame of it.

The teachers didn’t seem to mind, presumably as they were keen for him to get stuck into practising his piano recital rather than worry that a pupil looks like Kris Kross.

With the boy safely deposited at class, I reached for emergency baby wipes and started to clean up the gifted one who had earlier face-planted into the wet pavement having crashed her scooter into her brother’s buggy.

And, suddenly, it occurred to me that this is parenting a three-year-old and a five-year-old in a nutshell. The constant flitting between total amazement, such as hearing my offspring sing a “Happy New Year” song in Chinese, to rolling my eyes at the latest mishap or shouldn’t-laugh-but-I’m-going-to-anyway moment.

I’m surprised that there isn’t more of the latter to be fair. Quite how their heads haven’t come off with amount of new stuff being bombarded at them is a minor miracle.

The little people are developing well and are happy. It’s nice to be told that they’re talented or gifted, but it matters not as I know that they’re both definitely “special.”

What more could a Dad ask for, asides maybe some new, better ones who don’t block the drains by filling them up with stones from the garden? Again. Bless them.

Now where did I put my drain rods?

Fin.

The Big-ish Freeze

In which our reluctant hero heroically attempts to survive the big chill.

Poor old Blighty never seems properly prepared for anything, least of all the weather.

We’re usually surprised to be semi-flooded at this time of year, forgetting that February signals the start of the serious consideration as to whether “ark building” would be a good new hobby.

Normality resumes when the dove returns in April, followed by the inevitable hosepipe ban when we bizarrely run out of water after two days of July sunshine.

It snowed for the first time in years last December causing the inevitable chaos and a whiteout on social media as Olafs started popping up everywhere. It wasn’t even particularly bad snow, but did we cope? Nah.

Lessons learned and all that, we should have been better prepared when The Guardian’s live snow blog officially kicked off silly season after the first few flakes of the current white stuff fell. But no.

The rail operators were the first to be caught with their thermal pants down, cancelling services all over the place just in case it snowed. It didn’t for a few days either causing an unexpected grumpy front to head in from the southeast. If only somebody had thought to check Facebook. Or look out of a window as a last resort if the Internet was down.

When the snow finally appeared, it was cars suffering next as the roads became slippier than Boris Johnson on a buttered ice rink. Drivers were advised not to travel unless absolutely necessary. With the trains now properly derailed, the only options for many were to work at home or attempt to get to work by icicle.

The West Midlands thankfully got away with a light dusting, but it has been absolutely chuffing freezing. So it was on with my extra jumper, fleece, duffel coat, hat, scarf, emergency second hat and big headphones (cool music equals warm ears) in an attempt to reach the bus stop without becoming snowmanified. Which should be a word if it isn’t.

This theoretically cunning plan would have worked so much better had I, just like everyone else, not worn my usual thin work trousers, shoes and summer socks on my bottom half. I bet Long John Silver had warmer legs than me.

If a bus bothers to arrive, there’s the problem of removing the top fourteen layers of clothing to prevent baking, before reversing the process to catch the train.

Many of Wolverhampton’s schools were closed despite barely enough snow to make a snowball, let alone a snowman this morning, although it did worsen later. I’ll give them that one.

When I was little, snow days were often caused by the school heating temporarily packing up. Not wanting to feel left out, our boiler decided that it too would randomly lose pressure and stop heating our water and radiators, starting with my wife’s morning bath. Ice one.

Surprisingly, we were also caught out before the cold snap started. The last thing that you think of when heading on a seaside holiday is to pack hats, scarves and gloves. Which is exactly what we didn’t do a week ago when we headed to Minehead.

This wouldn’t have been an issue except that Butlins’ more exciting rides were located outside.

Perhaps packing a leather flying hat and goggles would have been more sensible for the outdoor “aeroplane” ride. On we got and accelerated straight into a minus fifteen degree breeze. Ouch. At least we thought to wear lace up shoes and not slip-ons like one mum who’s shoe propelled itself halfway to the beach.

Thankfully it shouldn’t last long with a tropical four degrees forecast for Sunday. If the sun and snow are out, someone somewhere will be bound to forget to plan for that too. Sunburn in March you say? It’s snow joke.

Fin.

Alice In Wonder-ish-land

In which our reluctant hero goes on a family day out.

“Are we nearly there yet?”
“No. We’re sat outside the house. I haven’t even got my seat belt on yet.”

And so our adventure began, sat outside our house in a cheap family hatchback on an unexpectedly cold February morning. About to embark on a trip to Wonderland. The real Wonderland off of Alice in Wonderland no less. Or something.

Two hundred and thirty further squeaky renditions of “are we nearly there yet?” and we were there yet. Well, in the car park anyway.

“Are you sure that this is the right place?”
“Yes.”
“It doesn’t look that wondrous.”

There’s pretty much nothing that a lick of paint won’t fix in life. Grubby walls, tired furniture, and broken legs to name just three. Wonderland, however, looked in need of an entire Dulux factory of colour administering by the crack team that ruined the metaphor about painting the Forth Bridge a few years back.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained though. How bad can it be?

“Two adults and two children, please.”

“That will be thirty-six pounds, please. And no, I’m not having a laugh.”

The Mad Hatter was clearly more bonkers than anyone had realised. Or perhaps we were, having decided to pay and enter?

The place was somewhat eerie, like a long-abandoned funfair in a cheap horror film in which an escaped gunman was hiding out, taking potshots at unsuspecting passers-by.

One of our party reassured us that it looks less spooky when the trees grow their leaves back. Not planning to hang around that long, I made a mental note that nobody should split up.

The first thing we encountered was a fifty-foot giant holding a massive spade. The looped eight-track cartridge that provided his giant’s voice blurted out the story of how he built The Wrekin. Of course he did. Our five year old was unsurprisingly terrified. Welcome to Twin Peaks.

The first of Wonderland’s many rides lurched off to a flurry of sparks. It didn’t gain much momentum and toddled round to its eventual stop. I wasn’t really sure what the children made of it, but they didn’t hang around for another go.

We thought better of letting the world’s most likely to escape and get lost three-year-old loose in the maze, so next up was the caterpillar ride. The kids’ seatbelt was missing an end but they didn’t seem to mind. I guess that it all added to the excitement.

While they risked life and limb, I checked out the special safety features of a nearby table. Presumably, the sharp screw sticking out of the top was to prevent things rolling off its sloped surface and hurting someone.

My wife noticed that the person in charge of the teacups ride was covered in hickeys. In 2018. Given that he hadn’t avoided totally unnecessary personal harm in the last few days, I assumed that the kids were now officially doomed.

Thankfully everybody survived until lunchtime and we headed to the Mad Hatter’s tea party with our sandwiches. I forgot to bring the flask of tea, amateur that I am.

“Dad, the table is minging.”

Yep. It was. We headed to “Castle Leaky Roof” instead, settling for an idyllic table come seesaw in a puddle on what was fast becoming the coldest day since made-up-for-blogging records began.

“This is a proper British day out!”

…reported one correspondent.

Yes, it’s the future. Or the past. Or both, for all eternity. David Davis’ post-Brexit UK being nothing like Mad Max prediction debunked in a sentence. This, contrary to what The Daily Mail thinks, is exactly why most foreigners choose to live abroad.

Fed and watered, we headed to Winter Wonderland.

“Have you been before?”

asked one mum.

“What? People come back?”

Frosty’s Ice Rink was closed despite it being about minus three degrees, presumably as there was a risk of slipping on the ice. Not to worry.

It’s always the most harmless looking things that cause the most bother. The screams from the little people as they rode on the innocent looking baby roller-coaster of doom seemed disproportionate to anything that we grownups were witnessing. Was the ride that scary or had the little people finally spotted the escaped B-movie gunman?

The rides were long to be fair. Very long in fact. Definitely a case of quantity over quality. And it was so quiet. No queues, no people. Wonderful. Perhaps Wonderland wasn’t that bad.

Things unexpectedly started to pick up. Ice Mountain had a better walkthrough snow scene than many a Santa’s Grotto. The Alice themed huts were nice enough and the children could write letters in the post room. We visited Snow White’s house, the lady who lives in a shoe, the crooked house, jumped on a couple more rides, saw some dinosaurs and met Alice and the Mad Hatter with his comedy high fives.

There was educational value too with signs scattered around providing information about animals and the like. I assumed that the “Pond Life” notice was about the history of Telford, although I didn’t read it.

I slowly started to forget the place’s total naffness. The further we explored, the more charming Wonderland became, in a naff sort of way. Before long, four hours had passed. The kids were semi-frozen but happy enough and, after an inauspicious start, it was a decent day out. If only Wonderland didn’t look so unloved.

So, Mad Hatter. Get your brush out, slap a bit of colour on, straighten the various wonky bits, grow those leaves back and give the place a spring clean and we will see you for tea later in the year. Probably.

Fin.

The Love Bug

In which our reluctant hero gets all romantic. Or something.

You have to love Valentine’s Day, don’t you? No? Anyone? Thought not.

Hot on the heels of the five months that was the nightmare before Christmas, armies of confused blokes were back on the streets attempting yet more panic-driven “thoughtful” purchases.

Coincidentally, business at petrol stations is booming. Ripen at home daffodils and King Size Mars bars providing the much-needed defibrillator to Blighty’s moribund economy. Well, it’s either that or a box of reduced Ferrero Rocher from Sainsbury’s local. Who says romance is dead?

Queues, a hundred people deep, formed at Marks and Spencer. Every basket contained a reassuringly expensive ready meal to be lovingly microwaved to within an inch of its life to impress the shopper’s significant-ish other. Yes, that’ll work mate. Nice one.

No wonder the infamous 1929 massacre occurred. Al Capone was probably just stocking up on Percy Pigs at the Chicago Marks and Sparks only to completely lose it half an hour after failing to get anywhere near a till.

Then there’s the unforgivable crime of emailing Steve Wright (in the afternoon) with ill-thought-out requests for Ed Sheeran, or other similar banal tosh written for people who don’t like music, to reassure themselves that after several months of “ups and downs” everything is OK again. Of course it is. You won’t make it to Easter.

Sadly, it’s not just the grownups caught up in this yearly nonsense, sponsored by Clintons.

On Tuesday evening, I caught our five-year-old daughter, fuelled by an overdose of chocolate spread pancakes, churning out Valentine’s Day cards long past her bedtime.

The following morning, she dished out six or seven of the carefully made creations to various boys and girls in reception class.

Sadly (or perhaps pleasingly as it saves me going round to have “a word”) she didn’t receive any in return. At least the hastily cobbled together effort that I made on behalf of mum, dad and little bro’ was appreciated.

It’s perhaps a sign of the over-commercialisation of absolutely bloody everything that five-year-olds are even thinking about this.

At various points over the past year, she has announced plans to get married. The lucky other halves have varied and have been plentiful. I think thst this is what’s known as “playing the field” in dating speak, although I had always assumed that the expression was about football.

First off, she was going to marry her little brother and move next door. Fortunately, the house is now off the market and the boy is usally “a load of bother” which put an end to that and saved us a chat with the local courts.

Then it was a girl that she was as thick as thieves with in nursery. That broke off when they ended up in different classes the following year. And then came the boys. One of Wednesday’s cards was for a boy that she likes but “some of the other girls actually love him.” Blimey.

She had another strong candidate for a prospective spouse for a while. Serious it was too.

When I asked why she wanted to marry this particular little boy, the reasons she gave were that he was always nice to her, always kind and always wants to play with her. Aww. He’s a lovely little boy too, although I suspect that marriage may not ultimately be on the cards for reasons she probably doesn’t quite understand yet. This one ended as she got fed up of him pretending to be a Transformer. Ultimately, she didn’t think that he could change.

Still, it’s reassuring to learn that our little girl is finding qualities that generally make for a nice person attractive at such a young age. Give it another ten years or so and she’ll most likely be attracted to complete idiots just so she can moan about them, like all the girls did when I was at school. Well, that’s my excuse for not becoming properly romantically entangled until University and I’m sticking to it.

In a last gap, slightly desperate, attempt to prove that I’m not the battle-weary ageing cynic that most of you think that I am (and you would be right) I will end with a poem. A romantic poem no less. About Roses. And disaster. Probably.

Roses are Red,

Violets are Blue,

I’m rubbish at writing poems,

So this will have to do.

Fin.

9 to 5

In which our reluctant hero faces a change in routine.

My wife started a new job this week. Not a proper job, like a bus driver or binman or Gender Equality Champion at the Lady Doritos factory, but a job, nevertheless.

We’ve somehow managed over five years of stay at home parenting for the little people. Go us! This seems like a minor miracle with the various strains of 21st Century life, but one, thankfully, made easier by Jesus inventing Lidl, newspaper holidays and bullet journal based budget trackers.

Our five-year old has taken it in her stride. As the world’s best eater of breakfast, she is ecstatic at getting to have three, maybe four or five, breakfasts of a morning thanks to the extra ones at Breakfast Club. We’re not sure how many exactly as the first rule of Breakfast Club is: you do not talk about Breakfast Club.

She loves the hour or so at After School Club too, although I’m not yet convinced that she gets that it’s playtime and not school time. The biscuit mixture cemented to her tights at home time last night may be an indicator of progress, though.

The boy hasn’t taken it quite so well and is a little confused. Why does big sister get to disappear off in the car with mum when he has to scoot to school with Dad or get a lift with his school friend? Why is our car on the school car park when he gets there and why is mum in the office? Why are there suddenly loads of letters to post every morning?

“Organising is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” – A. A. Milne

There’s much more planning to be done too. Butties need to be assembled the night before, uniforms need getting out and all of the other random rubbish they take in and bring back each day needs finding. Even tea needs thinking about a night ahead. Emergency beige food is surprisingly off the menu as there just isn’t time to bang it in the oven before bed. Hoorah for freezers and Tupperware.

The job is term time, which is massively helpful for holibobs. Seeing as my wife be off for around thirteen weeks a year, I’m assuming that I can take my leave when everyone else is in. Maybe I can also go to somewhere other than Butlins. Seems reasonable, yes?

The school run walk on my working at home days has been pleasant (asides from this morning’s unexpected blizzard) and 8,000 steps of my ten a day are done by not much after nine. I even get to do my second best fun thing to do by popping into the Co-Op to scavenge for bargains from the reduced aisle. Sixteen pence for a pack of sausages the other day, without a lie.

The house is nearly always child free, so should never get messy again. Probably.

And even better than all that is we’re (apparently) going to be better parents from now as we’ll appreciate the little people more and want to do fun things with them and read more stories and have more cuddles. Or something.

While this is a lovely thought, I’m more used to doing the being out all day thing than mum. Despite best intentions, dealing with tired kids after a long day doesn’t always make Daddy Bear the most cuddly or tolerant giant mammal in the woods, especially if he has a sore head and failed to find any toilet paper during walkabout.

Short-term it’s only the dual drop offs that present any real problems. Fortunately, there are only a few months before summer, after which both little people become imprisoned in HMP Education System until they are sixteen.

At this point they can forget about all that highfalutin “A Level” nonsense and leave to take up one of the two professions absolutely nailed on to coin it in come 2030. Plumbing and Tattoo Removal.

Plumbing, because everyone needs to keep their plumbing in good working order (especially at my age) and Tattoo Removal because have you seen what folk who really should know better keep doing to themselves these days? Didn’t they learn anything at school?

Fin.