Old Father Time


In which our reluctant hero ponders a topical issue.

According to BBC News, some singer or other (Janet Jackson, whoever she may be) is expecting a baby. At fifty. Blimey.

Hot on the heels of publishing this incredible piece of not news (they could equally have led with “WOMAN EXPECTING BABY”) Auntie Beeb followed up with a more interesting magazine article about what’s it like in a family with a big age gap between parents and kids. Pretty much the same as with a small age gap I would think, asides from everything being done so much better by us old ‘uns. Probably.

I was a sprightly thirty-nine year old when we brought a little person home for the first time. Don’t worry, it was ours. Looking back at photos from that time, I could have easily knocked a good few years off “late thirties” to hang around the park BMX-ing, or whatever the cool kids get up to these days. Certainly not the dishevelled mess that I resemble now after nearly four years of active parenting.

We, like increasing numbers of other parents, left having children quite late. Everything is more difficult as you get older and I worry for Janet. Just how will she and her small army of nannies, au pairs, butlers, chefs, handymen and gardeners keep on top of everything when the little one arrives? They’re in for a shock, I can tell you.

As a middle-aged parent, I know only one thing. Being a middle-aged parent. Having scratched out some thoughts on the back of a Ready Brek box, unsurprisingly, there seems to be pros and cons to having children later in life.

With age comes wisdom and life experience. And, to a degree, confidence. As a man in my early forties, I know more stuff, and more about how to deal with stuff, than I did in my early twenties, so that’s got to be a good thing, right? I also care a lot less about what other people think than I did in my youth. One nil to the older dads.

Leaving things later, we saved up a bit and bought a house in quite a nice bit of Wolverhampton (yep, there are some.) This meant that, with a bit of careful planning and thriftiness, my wife was able to become a stay at home mum, which is something that we both wanted while the children were little. Being the lower earner and being a dab hand at making chutney and doing the hoovering, it would have made far more sense for me to have stayed at home, but she was having none of it. Foiled again.

There’s also a school of thought that having children later somehow keeps you younger. They certainly keep you on your toes physically. And who would have thought that I would gain such an in-depth knowledge of young people things like Ben and Holly, Disney Princesses and the like at this stage of my life? (This is supposed to be a good thing?)

But what about the negatives?

Leaving things later increases risks. Risks during pregnancy are well documented, but risk of injury during conception also need to be considered, being more fragile and less flexible than in our primes. Less twerk and more creak. Maybe we need an awareness campaign?

Disney Princesses asides, I have some massive knowledge gaps around popular culture if recent quiz performances are anything to go by. And all new music is just rubbish. Fact. Maybe I could have just about tolerated spending fifty quid a ticket to sit through the latest thing to drop off the Cowell conveyor belt in my thirties, but not in my fifties. I’ll also be pushing sixty by the time that the kids start going to gigs, and worse still nightclubs, by themselves. If I had been younger I could maybe have gone with them. Nah.

Children keep you young? Wear you out more like. I was never the fittest in my twenties, but now, with considerably more miles on the clock, I’m in desperate need of a major service (and possibly a new exhaust) if I’m to keep running long enough to reach “classic” status. If they had been born when we were younger, the children may even have left home by now. Which technically makes me old enough to be their grandad. There’s a thought. But if our two have children of their own as late as we had them, chances are that I’ll never get to meet my grandchildren. That’s quite a sobering thought, knowing how much pleasure that the grandparents get from seeing them.

Expanding further, I did wonder if being a burden on the kids as the years passed by should also be a negative thing to consider. Looking at it another way, they will probably just be getting their hands on the inheritance money earlier so maybe this should be regarded as a positive. For them at least.

So in summary. Janet is in for a shock. We too left it late and can’t do anything about that. Our children need to get themselves familiar with mid-nineties Indie as soon as possible. They also need to have their offspring by their early twenties so that I don’t need to worry about them sloshing round nightclubs and also get to meet my grandkids. Simples.

So, over to them. No pressure.

Tales of Love and Loss and Living


In which our reluctant hero attempts to tackle a tricky subject.

It’s Friday, it’s six o’clock, so it’s blog time. In a change from my usual light-hearted guff, this week I’m writing about something genuinely difficult but important. Baby loss.

You may, or may not, know that this week is Baby Loss Awareness week. It is also National Curry Week, which would have been a far more sensible subject to write about, but who needs another parenting food blog?

If death is something of an elephant in the room, then baby loss is more a roomful of elephants in the elephant house at Elephant World. A full on safari that nobody really wants to acknowledge or talk about. And perhaps unsurprisingly so. It’s not generally regarded as a good source of light-hearted banter for the dinner table or down the pub. It’s the sort of topic that makes people a little awkward and twitchy. About as awkward and twitchy as I felt while deciding whether writing this post was a good idea or not. But write it I did.

Like most of my weekly posts, this was written on a train and scheduled well before Friday’s 6pm publishing time. When it goes live, I will be sat on another train, trying to get home from work after a few nights away. Which is coincidentally what I was doing when my wife found out that our first child, a beautiful little girl, had passed away in utero. Singularly the most difficult thing that we have and hopefully will ever have to face as a couple and I wasn’t there. Sat on a train. Alone. Miles away and useless.

I found out the news on platform one of Wolverhampton railway station. As I got off the train, my wife was waiting for me. Her sizeable bump was as evident as it had been when I was at home the previous weekend. I couldn’t put my finger on why, but it looked different. Moments later we hugged. I started to cry. I didn’t think that I would ever stop. It was April Fool’s day. Sometimes life is full of odd coincidences.

For some reason, the one memory that sticks out from the rest of the day was that, once home, our cat, Momo, wouldn’t leave the bump alone. He would lie, paws across, almost cuddling it as if he knew that something was wrong. Our emotions were all over the place but somehow we managed to get through to morning and back to the hospital.

Saturday morning’s scan reaffirmed the bad news. Having been absent the previous day, I was clutching to the ludicrous hope that a heartbeat would be found. It wasn’t. We chatted about what would happen next with the consultant, my wife took some medicine and we went home. I’m guessing that we must have packed some things ready for hospital but I don’t recall a single thing from the rest of the day.

We headed back to the hospital at 10am on Sunday morning to have our baby. Mentally, this was difficult to comprehend. How do you prepare for a labour and delivery, months before you expected it, when you already know that there’s going to be no happy ending? It’s tough.

Various tests were undertaken and the process of getting baby moving started sometime before midday. We had about half of the contents of HMV with us to help us get through the coming hours. Books, DVD’s, music, the lot. They never made it out of the bag as within an hour the contractions were so painful that co-codamol and morphine were being brought out. This was topped up with plenty of gas. If you’ve not tried gas, do. It helps. Even us blokes.

By mid afternoon, my wife was in a massive amount of pain once more but also appeared to be tripping. I guess that this isn’t a normal state to be in during childbirth, but I guess that this wasn’t a normal childbirth. She asked for an epidural, was refused one but took it well. One bizarre side effect of this cocktail of drugs was over politeness when speaking. At this time, every sentence contained several “please and thank-yous” in an almost childlike way. It melted my heart.

Sickness followed which was keeping me very busy. Contractions, pain, vomit. This was pretty much the next four hours, until at half seven there was a “whoosh!” and our daughter was born, in her waters, to the evident surprise of the midwife. Countryfile was on the television in the bereavement suite.

“We did it!”

My head was all over the place at this point. I was a Dad which was an extremely proud feeling. This was mixed in with an empty sadness caused by the loss. And relief. Relief that my wife got through it relatively unscathed, physically at least. Selfish as this is, even now I can’t contemplate how I would have coped if anything had happened.

We became parents for the first time on Mother’s Day. Sometimes life is full of odd coincidences.

We met our daughter for the first and only time the following day. Not knowing what to expect, I was extremely apprehensive beforehand due to an irrational fear that I may have rejected her. I’m not going to describe the meeting other than to say that the time with her was oddly normal and relaxing considering the circumstances.

At the hospital, there were lots of decisions to be made and seemingly no time to think things through. Should we have a post-mortem or not? Did we want a funeral? Did we want a burial? Other things too. There seemed to be leaflets everywhere but their words just went in and out.

Everything had been fine at our twenty week scan which was a couple of weeks later than planned, although I don’t recall why. We knew that we were having a girl and having looked at names there was one that seemed to stick out. After the scan, I headed from the hospital to the station for a fortnight away with work. The song “Evelyn Evelyn” by the band “Evelyn Evelyn” randomly came up my phone as I waited for a connection at Nottingham station. Spooky. I texted my wife.

Less than a fortnight later we had lost her. As the age at birth was deemed to be under 24 weeks, based largely on measurements taken at the scan, there was no birth certificate issued. We are still not sure that this is correct. The support provided at New Cross Hospital was fantastic, and we were lucky enough to receive a SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) memory box which remains very precious. But no birth certificate. Legally, I was merely the husband of the patient. I couldn’t make any decisions. I couldn’t sign any forms. It still angers me.

We opted for a funeral but no post-mortem. If we had done so, we may have discovered the cause of death, which may in turn have helped during any future pregnancies. Or may not have. Having met our daughter, there was no decision to make. Nobody was going to cut her up.

The time up to the funeral passed so slowly. Fortunately it was glorious weather for April which meant that we could spend time outdoors. This was a massive help mentally and probably just as well as we couldn’t get in the house for flowers. I wrote a poem that was read out at the funeral. Friends and family gathered and left. Close friends returned later in the evening whereupon I invented the concept of “emergency wine.” We got ready for bed. Up to this point we had some focus and purpose, but what next? It all got a bit much. I cried myself to sleep.

Visiting the cemetery gave me a headache, although months later I started to find it quite a peaceful place. SANDS sessions, although massively beneficial to some, weren’t for me and just seemed to regress my mental state. I’d have to go back to work at some point, but I didn’t really want to talk to my then boss. Not because he wasn’t supportive or anything other than a genuinely decent man, but he had recently lost a son who had unexpectedly dropped dead at home in the kitchen, aged sixteen. To me, that was at least a nine out of ten score on my recently derived “grief scale” whereas our loss was probably only a four or five in comparison. Madness. Literally.

Things slowly got back to normal. Little steps. Day by day. Month by month. Other, much earlier, losses followed which was tougher to take with each new setback. Pregnancy tests went positive then faded away every month.

Eventually our luck changed and we had another baby girl, and, twenty months later, a baby boy. You may recall me moaning about them in every other post in my blog. Which is what we all do as parents because, although our love for them is unconditional and it is hugely rewarding, it is also bloody difficult at times. We have never taken any of our children for granted and realise how lucky we are to have had them. Others that have experienced loss may not have been as fortunate as us to experience this joy.

Evelyn’s birth has changed us forever. More than five years on, there still hasn’t been a day where I haven’t thought about her at some point. They say that time is a great healer, and it probably is. For the most part we don’t get sad any more. Oddly, the saddest I have been about our experience of late has been over the last few days thinking about, and writing, this post. Sat on a train. Alone. Miles away and useless.

Let’s Go Fly A Kite


A few weeks ago, we went on a short holiday. Or a long weekend, if you prefer. Holidays used to involve exciting things such as planes, trains and automobiles, meals out, sunsets and lie ins, often in warmer climes. Now they mostly involve collecting vouchers from the newspaper, traffic jams, caravans, sleep deprivation and six-foot tall dancing fluffy rabbits. Which is all fine of course. Except maybe the rabbits.

On our way back home, we stopped off to say goodbye to the sea and partake in one last go of our newly found most fun thing to do on holidays ever. Flying a kite.

On the last two Father’s Days, we have visited the National Trust property at Dudmaston where we made kites at the Family Fun Day. Little cellophane sails held aloft by garden canes stuck down with badly applied sellotape. String with coloured ribbon for tails and thin cotton line that looks like it will snap if blown too hard, let alone launched on a windy day. Having made them, one kite sat behind a picture gathering dust for a year or more and the other on top of a bookshelf in the kitchen. Where better?

We finally got them packed and onto the beach during day two of holidays. Would they fly? No, not at first, but after a little untying and re-sticking we were off! The first kite managed to float pretty well if we caught the wind correctly. The second adopted more a high-speed kamikaze flight path, darting in crazy circles up and down until smashing into the sand below.

Little legs spent much time running up and down the empty beach trying to catch enough breeze for another lift off. Larger legs spent much time tangled up in line as the up and down went more round and round. Eventually, kids worn out, we headed for lunch after a lovely morning whereupon I invested a whacking five English pounds (currently worth about two US dollars) on a proper kite from the cafe.

On the final day, I took this picture on the beach at Talacre.

Flying a Kite

Flying a Kite

I was rather pleased with my photo which should one day end up in the children’s albums if we ever get round to printing anything out ever again. Ahem. (See also this old post.)

It is funny how a photo can evoke different mental imagery depending on who looks at it and when.

In years to come, the children may look at the photo (yes, yes… it will be printed by then) and summon planted memories of a long forgotten, almost idyllic, holiday. Quiet beaches, stormy skies, a coat at least a size too small that should have gone in the hand-me-downs bag, and flying a kite. Which will be nice.

Friends (asides from those on my Facebook “Stalkers” list) and family will get their sanitised highlights through social media and may recall happy times on holidays of their own.

And Mum and Dad, being the only ones who were on the beach at the time, will recall something quite different. Over to Sue Barker to find out why in our “What Happens Next” round.

Within a second of the shutter clicking the kite was released, on purpose, for the second time in a matter of minutes. The first time we managed to jump on the line and quickly stop it. A bit of winding in, a quick chat about the need to hold on tightly and no harm done.

The second time coincided with a gust of wind that propelled the kite at high-speed down the beach towards the lighthouse.

Moments later, a quick thinking mummy (having checked suitability of footwear – old trainers, so fine) pegged it in hot pursuit. Off the kite flew, faster and faster, first over the sand, then the wet bit, then the stony bit, then the sinky bit which were all carefully negotiated in a desperate attempt to catch it.

I had two soundtracks to this rather bizarre scene running through my head. Having decided that it was more Benny Hill theme than Chariots of Fire, the rest of us gave chase too.

Eventually, the kite came to a halt in mud at the water’s edge near the lighthouse. Mummy pounced on it and collected her gold medal. The telling off that followed was interesting in that yes, it was definitely necessary, but the minutes preceding had been so amusing that it was difficult to keep straight faces.

This is an ongoing problem in parenting. If something is a bit naughty, but also funny, should we say anything? Like the time when our eldest, then a two year old, shouted “K***HEAD!” at a driver that overtook us like an idiot. She was right of course but, slightly surprised, the only response I could find was “Have you been in the car with mummy?”

Anyway, having cleaned the mud off the kite, stopped the tears and packed everything up, we headed back to the car and home via the ice cream factory. You can’t go to the beach without having an ice cream after all, even if the ice cream ends up being purchased 35 miles away.

A Balancing Act


In which our reluctant hero learns something new.

They say that you learn something new each day. It’s true that. Take this morning for example where I, and three fellow commuters, learned not to assume that a BMW driver, who was not indicating, wouldn’t be turning right as we fled for safety like proverbial bunnies in the headlights while attempting to cross the road to the station.

As parents, we instinctively try to help our little people learn and develop new skills. In the early days this may involve encouraging those first attempts at a smile, gripping and shaking a rattle or simply knocking things over. In a way, this stage is probably the easiest as if your child is having fun doing an activity, pretty much any activity, then they are learning.

In hindsight this is a rewarding period as a parent. Knowing that playing with something as simple as a cardboard box will provide hours of giggles and they’ll think that you’re the world’s best Dad as a result is brilliant. Make the most of it. It won’t last.

Different skills become essential to independence as children get older, such as using a spoon, walking, talking and being able to charge a flat tablet back up.

Then there’s the more “academic” stuff, like learning to count and recognise numbers. When our eldest was little, each time we walked up or downstairs we would count each step until, eventually, she could recite the pattern like a performing monkey. Which, of course, we made her do countless times, especially in front of parents with children slightly older. (And don’t tell me that you didn’t do this too, parents of two year olds…) Oddly, our youngest seems to have taught himself the same skill with little help from ourselves AND remembers to include the number eight more often than not.

There seems to be conflicting messages around learning though. There’s the school of thought that children do things in their own time and we should just let them get on with it. Which is probably true, to a degree. Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.

But, by the time that they start at school nursery at three there’s an expectation that children can use the toilet, know about food and eating well, can hold a pencil properly and attempt to write their name, and so on. Yet we are often told that if we do too much at home there will be nothing for the children to learn at school and they’ll get bored. What’s the balance? It seems that you can’t win.

Although primarily focussed on an older age group, there was an interesting article on the BBC website this week which discussed whether homework was worth the hassle. In it, a Texan teacher proposed “I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success. Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside, and get your children to bed early.” as an alternative approach to extra curricular learning.

Now, I have no idea if this is a sensible approach to adopt with an eleven year old or not, but it seems pretty sound advice for when the children are little.

So, in the first three years, is it better to focus on the things that children are not going to learn at nursery or school later? Do things together and play lots?

If we take the academic element away, that presumably leaves more of a focus on the creative side. Albert Einstein once said that “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” and, being a bit of a clever clogs himself, he could well be right.

So, maybe it is time to chuck the “Differential Calculus for Infants” book in the bin and fetch out the Lego, books, Play Doh and dressing up things instead. And don’t worry. You can always sneak some sums, telling the time, spelling and Spanish lessons in with a few careful telly choices.

The Witching Hour


In which our reluctant hero gets ready for bed.

Yesterday evening’s journey home was a typical Thursday commute for me, being mostly spent typing exciting terms such as “parenting” and “children” into Google’s news search in the vain hope of getting a spark of inspiration for today’s post. Having waded through about three hundred headlines about “Brangelina” I eventually stumbled upon something interesting in The Mirror.

“Three quarters of parents no longer give their children a bath before bed and favour quick showers instead, a new study has found.

Busy mums and dads admitted that they preferred screen-time to calm their kids rather than reading them a story and tucking them in for the night.”


Three quarters? Really?

Now I can completely understand why many parents, us included, allow a bit of telly before bed, but the concept of a complete lack of routine at this time (as is inferred in the full article) seems bizarre.

Although all parents do things differently, establishing routines is vitally important, not least for your own sanity. Bedtime was one of the first after becoming parents. You tweak things of course, especially as the little people get a bit older, but our routine isn’t massively different from when our eldest was six months old, albeit with two children now.

To illustrate the benefits of our efforts, I will describe how bedtime works at our house on a good day.

Tea finished, we head upstairs to run the bath. I fetch and lay out the pyjamas, pick some toys, get them undressed and they jump in. Once the hair-washing bit is done, the children play nicely in the bath for about twenty minutes before I get them out to dry and dress them. Back downstairs, they may ask for a biscuit and half a banana if still peckish, and watch a programme before bed. We aim to get back upstairs for teeth, toilet, stories and lights off at around 7pm. Everyone goes straight to sleep and mum and dad get a well-earned sit down. We, as the righteous quarter of all parents, deserve a medal. Go us.

A proper system, regimentally applied. Sounds good, doesn’t it? For balance, this is how the same routine works on a bad day.

Tea finished, a tantrum starts about not wanting a bath. With a child under each arm, I head upstairs to run the water, fetch and lay out the pyjamas and pick some toys. The next five to ten minutes are spent trying to find the children who, by now, could be anywhere from bouncing on our bed to down at the bottom of the garden. Once retrieved, I spend another five minutes practicing my WWF skills while getting them undressed and into the bath, which may well have gone cold.

Once the hair-washing bit is (eventually) done, the children throw or splash water at each other and at me for about thirty seconds before I lose my rag, get them out and attempt to dry and dress them. The soundtrack to this bit is often crying and wails of “I don’t want you… I like my mummy best!” from the eldest and “mummy back NOW!” from the youngest. It’s so nice to feel loved.

Back downstairs, they may ask for a biscuit and half a banana if still peckish, before we pop the telly on to watch a bedtime programme. An argument starts, usually involving foot stamping and shouts of “I want Team Umizoomi not baby programmes!” from the eldest, and “No. Peppa Pig FIRST!” from the youngest in an infinite loop. Now somewhat fed up, I stick CBeebies on and head to the kitchen to locate wine while thinking, “If only my meeting had overrun by half an hour.”

The telly talks to itself (as CBeebies is on after 6pm it will be the episode of “In the Night Garden” with the Tombliboos making loads of noise – it always is) while the kids tip toys out everywhere, run round in circles, jump off the sofa and scream. The coalition forces of team mum and dad assemble, storm the front room, switch the telly off and drag the children back upstairs for teeth, toilet, stories and lights off at around 6:30pm.

Nobody goes straight to sleep, I pick the toys and cushions back up, and mum and dad get a well-earned sit down spent shouting “GET BACK TO BED…. NOW!” until they eventually drop off.

There is something very odd and unpredictable about that last hour before bed though. Even if the children have been good all day, you can almost see hair starting to grow out of their palms and the red mist descend as the clock strikes six.

It’s not always like this of course, but if you go through a couple of consecutive nights of it you can perhaps see why bath time may be skipped and the tablet fetched out by night three. Which, to me, is a shame. Is a quick shower and an hour of iPad really the antidote? Apparently, three quarters of us parents think so.

Not every night though, surely? Tucking the little people in and story time is one of the nicest parts of the day if everyone is settled and starting to get sleepy. The other three quarters can do it their way, and we’ll do it ours.

Don’t have nightmares. Goodnight.

School Daze


In which our reluctant hero is not sure what to do for the best. Again.

After almost two weeks, Facebook’s random algorithm that decides which of your “friend’s” posts it will actually allow you to see has caught up. Yes, the last few snaps of little people, kitted out in shiny new shoes and colourful jumpers, ready for a new school year have finally disappeared. Fortunately, normality has returned and everybody is back posting photos of their dinner instead. Phew!

Don’t get me wrong, we were guilty too as our eldest stood beaming ahead of commencing her first full year at school nursery. Uniform is optional but we bought some anyway. Almost a week into term, quite why we reckoned that three white polo shirts would be enough to last five mornings on a three-year old is beyond me. Does anybody have any tips on removing egg stains by the way? (I’m asking for a friend.)

Time moving like time does, it seems that as soon as the little people are out of nappies, they’re into school uniform. Then back out of uniform and into a fresh set after an unexpected incident involving Weetabix.

But before all of this you have the dilemma of choosing a school, nursery or playgroup. And what a nightmare it is.

We have been somewhat lucky up to now. As a family with a stay at home mum, we didn’t have to worry about external childcare for a couple of years. When the time came, we visited a couple of places before picking the nearest playgroup which was a nice enough start to school life. So far, so good.

At three, nursery choices were narrowed by our local primary school not having one and a need, at that point, to find a place that accommodated afternoon attendance. We’ve now switched to mornings so that we can also start our youngest in playgroup for a couple of sessions a week.

Already there’s military style planning needed to manage the respective drop-offs and pick-ups at two events starting and finishing at different times a mile or so apart. By this time next year it could be a lot more complicated.

In the olden days, when I were a lad, it was easy. At three, it was off to the village playgroup, followed by the village primary school. At eleven, a short bus ride was required to get to the nearest comprehensive in the “big” town. Repeat until sixteen, get your GCSE results and then decide whether to do ‘A’ Levels or get a job in Kwik Save with everyone else who left school at that point.

Fast forward to 21st Century Britain and now we have a choice. Or several choices. Thanks Government.

Pick a school, any school. There you go. No, not that one. Did you not read the Ofsted report from 2013? And look at the current league table. There could be a relegation battle on the cards this year. Do you not care about your children’s futures? Shame on you.

So, just how do we choose the right one?

Ideally it will be local and near enough to walk to. Having a nursery so that both children can attend the same place when the youngest starts next September will be a huge plus too.

Now the decisions get trickier. How big are the class sizes? What are the facilities like? How many schools should we realistically be visiting to compare? Is a couple of days assessment by some people with clipboards and a red pen really an accurate measure of how good a school is? If a school can fob Ofsted off, what chance have we got? Do the league tables actually matter? Seemingly so, at least to other parents anyway.

After copious amounts of study, I think that I have finally worked out the modern-day school system which I will attempt to explain below in simple language so that other Dads will understand.

A football club (school) wins the cup (gets a favourable Ofsted), improves its league position, gains promotion to the Premier League and qualifies for Europe. The glory hunting fans (parents) are quick to jump on board, claiming to be life long supporters, and buy the new kit (uniform.) Bus loads of new players (pupils) appear at the club’s training ground (playground) from all over the world (town) during pre-season (school holidays) hoping to win a contract for next season (term.) The transfer window slams shut and the manager (headmaster) faces a dilemma – how to get an oversized, unbalanced squad of varying abilities to perform and achieve success. They try but fail, performances drop and results suffer. A slide down the table occurs and at the end of the season, agents (parents again) battle furiously to sign their star players (children) up to another club (school), preferably with European ambitions. Oddly, the new club that the players join were relegated to the Championship only a couple of seasons ago, before appointing a new manager (headmaster) and bouncing back (did well at Ofsted and SATs.) And the circle is complete.

Bearing this in mind, are we not better just continuing at the place where the eldest is? After all, she’s settled, absolutely loves going there and we, as parents, have been impressed with the set up so far. Sounds reasonable, yes? But there’s no guarantee that she’ll get in, so even that option requires two backup plans, else risk having to go through clearing or win a penalty shootout.

What about home schooling? It’s a subject in the papers a lot at the moment and we’ve not even considered it. Perhaps that’s a better option. It’ll save all of the faffing getting there and back, especially in the winter, and there must be loads of lessons on YouTube that the children can watch.

Or what about grammar or free schools? No, let’s not even go there…

So those are the options and the clock is ticking for us to make a decision. I’m stumped if I know what to do. More study first I guess.

Food Glorious Food


In which our reluctant hero serves up nine and a half of his five a day.

Food is back on the menu again, or in the news at least, as the biannual “Children’s lunchboxes still unhealthy shock” story resurfaces. According to an article on the BBC and elsewhere, fewer than two in 100 children’s lunches (that would be one in 100 then, Auntie Beeb?) meet the government’s nutritional standards. Children don’t eat enough fruit and veg and prefer crisps and biscuits? Who knew?

While our two are a good way off needing a packed lunch each day, presumably the same guidelines apply to feeding the little people once they’re weaned off milk and relying on solids as fuel. Seems logical, but are we doing it right at home? I do hope so as the shame would be just too much if we don’t.

To test, I decided to look up the governmental guidelines, compare to an average lunch served at our house and smugly show how we are the exceptions to the rule. We’re middle class and have heard of “5 a day” and all that after all so what could possibly go wrong?

OK. Here goes…

1. One portion of fruit and one portion of vegetable or salad every day to be included in packed lunches

Fruit. Tick, tick, tick. No problem with the fruit. The fruit is covered. Veg though? Occasionally a tomato or bit of cucumber may be nibbled at during lunch if there’s a full moon due. Homemade soup is a favourite of our youngest, the eldest rarely touches it. Baked beans and spaghetti hoops count as vegetables too according to the tin so there’s enough here to justify that we provide at least one of each I reckon. Tick.

2. Meat, fish or another source of non-dairy protein should be included every day. Non dairy sources of protein include lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, hummus, peanut butter and falafel

Sadly, by “meat and fish” the guidelines are referring to unprocessed stuff as opposed to turkey twizzlers. I’m guessing wafer thin ham doesn’t count either, so probably a no here. Pulses? You may as well try feeding them poison asides from an inconsistent and erratic relationship with hummus which is either wolfed down or refused in equal measures. We get through peanut butter by the bucketful and as I have just decided that the children are, on balance, probably vegetarian (they love veggie sausages – what more proof do you need?) I’m having another tick here thank you very much.

3. An oily fish, such as salmon, should be included at least once every three weeks

Oily fish? We’ve barely managed to get a portion down in three years let alone every three weeks. Deep fried fish fingers count though, right? It’s bound to be olive oil that they use at the chippy. Tick.

4. A starchy food, such as bread or pasta, rice, couscous, noodles, potatoes or other cereals, should be included every day

Couscous is a no-no due to the texture, and rice is a bit hit or miss too. They’re fine with the rest and we normally buy wholemeal bread or the “best of both” option if white. As lunch normally involves butties or toast, that’s another tick.

5. A dairy food, such as semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, cheese, yoghurt, fromage frais or custard should be included every day

Yep. Or ice-cream. Probably. Not that this would be a good idea in a lunchbox. Tick.

6. Free, fresh drinking water should be available at all times

Water is always available as we are lucky enough to own a tap despite living in Wolverhampton. It never gets drunk but that’s not a stipulation of the guidelines. Tick.

7. Include only water, still or sparkling, fruit juice, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, yoghurt or milk drinks and smoothies

You’ve missed squash off, spoilsports. We give the little people fruit juice or milkshake occasionally. Half a tick?

8. Snacks such as crisps should not be included. Instead, include nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit (with no added salt, sugar or fat). Savoury crackers or breadsticks served with fruit, vegetables or dairy food are also a good choice

Our two rarely have crisps as if we have any in the house they are stored above head height and mummy knows where they’re kept. Peanuts, yes but salted or not at all but cashews are a big hit with our eldest. Breadsticks and Mini Cheddars they will eat by the skip full, and raisins also but, oddly, no other dried fruit. Close enough. Tick.

9. Confectionery such as chocolate bars, chocolate-coated biscuits and sweets should not be included. Cakes and biscuits are allowed but these should be part of a balanced meal

Chocolate based things are treats if tea has been polished off nicely. Like me, neither of the children are that keen on cake (the little one more so) and we normally go for “healthier” biscuits, if there can be such a thing, like malted milk, digestives or hobnobs. And custard creams. They’ve got custard in and this also satisfies rule five. Tick.

10. Meat products such as sausage rolls, individual pies corned meat and sausages / chipolatas should be included only occasionally

Our two aren’t keen on pastry, but the government is having a laugh if cocktail sausages are on the “banned from daily consumption” list. Without those there would be a fifty percent reduction in our children’s protein intake. And mine. I’m not counting that as a parenting fail as it is blatantly silly. Stupid experts with their facts and logic and stuff. Tick.

So, there you go. We’re not doing too badly, but the difficulty is not necessarily serving the right stuff up but finding the day that the kids are in the mood to eat it. By my maths we scored a massive nine and a half out of ten. Or, using the BBC’s logic, more than nine out of ten. So ten out of ten then. Yay! Tick.


[More details about healthy lunchboxes are here, should you wish to explore further.]