Brokeback Mountain

In which our reluctant hero gets a bit ranty and goes on an unexpected trip. Or something.

Wednesday was a working at home day to cover school duties, as apparently ladies now have proper jobs as well as being mums. Girl Power, comrades. Girl Power.

With everyone deposited in their respective classrooms, I had time to kill before harvest festival assembly. This is what is commonly referred to as “taking one for the team.”

Over the years, I had forgotten that harvest services almost exclusively involve children reading out (very) loud(ly) and singing at a pitch that would make a dog wince. Still, it’s nice that the school is making the effort, and nice to see the fruits of the children’s collective labours, so to speak.

I’ll give the little one her dues too, she put everything into her performance, belting “Big Red Combine Harvester” out with the gusto of a young Grampy Rabbit.

A couple of things stuck in my mind, asides from the singing, after the assembly finished and the children had shuffled back into class.

When I was little, the collection at our church harvest helped provide Christmas hampers for the local pensioners. I don’t recall if they needed them or not, but it seemed a nice gesture.

By contrast, in 2017, some working people can’t even feed themselves let alone their families. The school collection was to support the local food bank. How has this happened? Shame on you Maybot and your army of Blue Meanies.

Secondly, is it really too much to ask a grown up human parent to manage twenty phone free minutes while their child is performing? Especially if they are stood in the naughty spot at the front having turning up late.

What message does it send out?

“Yeah, sorry I couldn’t be arsed getting there on time. A couple more watches of “Ninja Cat” on YouTube and I’ll be right with you. What?”

Just don’t come. It’s kids singing songs and saying prayers. We all know it’s not going to be King Lear. Possibly not even Googlebox or You’ve Been Framed. People don’t normally go to gigs to stand there filming it and miss everything, or WhatsApp their way through two hours at the cinema, do they? Oh.

OK. A modern portable telephone is no longer the brick that you rack up a ninety quid text bill on if there’s time between games of snake. It’s a phone, an organiser, a telegram machine, a library, tellybox, wireless and cinema.

You can join in by instantly sharing photos of the same strange events that everyone else is sharing. Like on Monday, when half of Britain simultaneously Facebooked the same photo of a normal looking sky having forgotten to turn “auto white balance” off in the camera settings. Isn’t technology marvellous?

Practically every bit of information ever discovered is there at your fingertips. You simply have to Ask Jeeves.

“Why is the child crying now Jeeves?”

“Because it is stood there singing its heart out wanting some attention and you’re looking at your phone. Again.”

There is something weirdly addictive about the small screen though. It’s the electronic equivalent of whatever they lace KFC with to make you crave it twice a week, even though you know that it’s horrible.

The kids argue relentlessly about which programme to watch on the big telly…

“I don’t like Peppa Pig.”

“I’m not watching Topsy and Tim.”

“Well I’m not watching Duggie either.”

“I’m not your best friend ANY MORE!”

But give them a tablet with iPlayer Kids installed and guess what they’ll watch together. Yep. “(d.) All of the above.” Every time.

Should I blame the mum? As a society, we’re being helplessly swept up in a whirlwind of noise and (useless) information. Yet, my answer is of course yes, and for no other reason than it’s really rude.

She’s probably also the person at the front of the queue at the bank or supermarket, blabbering away while some other poor person tries their best to serve them. When I am King, these idiots will be first against the wall. Bing and his friends will be second.

“Well, all this ranting about stuff that doesn’t really matter is all very nice…” I hear you mutter, through hamster-like cheeks brimming with Friday’s chippy tea. “But where’s the disaster?”

Assembly done, I headed back home to do some proper, less stressful, work.

Normally our attic bedroom offers a quiet place to get on with stuff. However, we’re in the final stages of having our roof re-laid. Cue much banging and the obligatory singalong to whatever the roofers are listening to on Awful FM while up there.

A more creative solution was required, so I improvised an office utilising the pull out table from our three year old’s bed, and a set of bathroom steps balanced on a tiny stool. What could possibly go wrong?

I don’t think that anybody on my project initiation dial-in heard the cracks of the steps breaking or my back demolishing the small mountain of our little person’s drum kit. A couple of days later, I’m sporting a bruise on my back the size of a foot. It just goes to show, children and working are bad for your health.

Fin.

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Working Girl

In which our reluctant hero ponders a common parenting puzzle.

Us parents are well drilled in the nightly routine of not wanting to tidy up, not putting pyjamas on, not cleaning teeth and general non-compliance at bedtime. At forty-four years old, you would think that I would have grown past it by now.

(*CYMBAL CRASH* Here all week, folks…)

I found myself in a stand-off with my four year old a couple of nights back. She was adamant that her human rights were being violated by my totally unreasonable request to place a sheet of stickers back in the drawer. Cue huffing and waterworks.

Should I have backed down and put the stickers away? Probably – I had already put everything else away after all. I may well have too if said stickers hadn’t been thrown at me when I first asked.

This was the transition from picking battles to point of principle. One way or another, this ten second job was getting done and I didn’t care if it took all night. Pathetic, eh?

Stickers finally away, we had the talk about how getting upset could have been avoided and how we all need to help each other and blah, blah, blah. Words meet wall. You know the drill.

It’s not always like this to be fair. The children are generally little bother and how situations play out varies greatly with tiredness. Usually mine.

Things were very different last Friday evening, for example. With an exhausted little brother in bed and ‘jamas on without fuss, I promised our daughter that she could stay up a bit later than normal. She had been asking all evening simply so she could do what I do on a Friday evening. Seems reasonable.

Now I’m not sure what she was expecting, and you’ll be forgiven for thinking that the next sentence has been pinched from Keith Richards’ autobiography. But what I normally do on Friday evenings is the washing up and laundry. Rock ‘n’ roll.

There’s an expression “ask and you shall receive.” She asked, and minutes later was happily up to her elbows in soapy water. I wish that I had known this two years ago as it would have saved me series linking “A Question of Sport.”

Why children chose to help some days but not others is the proverbial riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside a Kinder egg, wrapped in some adverts on YouTube.

Why do we have a stand-off and tantrums one day, yet happily embark on scrubbing a grill pan that Nanette Newman would struggle to get clean with a year’s supply of Fairy on another?

When the boy recently had a tummy bug, who stepped up to the plate? Having used the toy thermometer to reach a diagnosis of “a bit poorly,” our daughter was off to the kitchen to wash and prepare a pile of strawberries as a snack to help him get better.

The puzzling thing was not whether her actions were extended role-play or due to genuine concern for her little brother. Oh no. It was, how she could competently slice strawberry tops off one day but can’t be bribed to use cutlery at mealtimes almost every other?

It’s the same with tidying. Nobody ever picks the Lego or Postman Pat toys up. Yet the kids will happily spend hours picking up every fallen leaf in Tettenhall to shove them in the car footwells or the bottom of a buggy.

They’re clearly more than capable of doing jobs so, at three and nearly five, should we make the odd chore part of their daily routines?

David Beckham (apparently) made his kids get Saturday jobs to earn their spending money, presumably as being the face of Burberry didn’t fill Brooklyn’s piggy bank quickly enough. I’ll wager that his first telly was upcycled out of a skip too, the poor lamb.

Our kids are too young to get Saturday jobs (I checked) although Sports Direct will take them on part time at Christmas. My wife gives them pocket money if they’ve worked hard or have been helpful at home instead. This was fine for a while, but our eldest can now work out her wages. Payment used to be about the number of coins that she got, not the value, but now 3p for cleaning a kitchen isn’t enough. Stupid capitalism.

Hopefully, setting a good example will encourage the little people to muck in a bit more frequently longer term. Until then, it’s back to a bit old school “do it yourself.”

But hang on. It’s Friday night.

“Do you want to stay up late tonight? There’s some ironing that needs doing.”

Fin.

Neverending Story

In which our reluctant hero goes back to school (again) and fails to come up with an appropriate blog title despite spending about four hours on imdb.

I’ve spent much of this week on the road or, more accurately, on the rails. With hindsight, this was only slightly better than spending much of the week going off the rails, but no matter.

Surprisingly, commuting to work is not as fun or glamorous as is sounds. No, really. My daily trek usually involves overcrowded carriages, faulty toilets and wringing ten hour old coffee dregs from a battered Thermos. I frequently find myself staring into space and adopting an expression resembling Michael Palin midway through filming a Channel 5 series where he only visits soulless provincial towns by Megabus.

Anyway, I was making good progress while travelling home on Wednesday evening when a message unexpectedly popped up on my not-as-smart-as-it-thinks-it-is-phone. It was from my wife. Who did you think it going to be from? The Pope?

“M has just taught me something I didn’t know”
“Really?
(Trespasser on line. Spoke too soon…)
What was it?”
“Diagraph”
“A cross between a diagram and graph?”
“Apparently it is a sound which has 2 letters
E.g. ‘Ch’ or ‘sh’ or ‘th’”
“Ah. Digraph… Looked it up mind!”
“Ha!”

Ha, indeed.

After briefly pondering what a “diagraph” could be if it existed (I settled on something like an infographic) I re-read the definition of the thing that I was supposed to be finding out about. Stupid short attention span. Ooh, look. A bee…

According to the Internet, which is never wrong, digraph sounds are single sounds that are represented in writing with two letters i.e. ch, th, sh, wh, and ng. Digraphs are not the same as consonant blends. Oh, no. Each pair of letters make a new sound that is different from the sounds made by the individual letters. Or something.

So there you go. We’ve learnt something from our four year old that she didn’t pick up from adverts on YouTube or Nick Jr. Isn’t modern day education marvellous?

Once home, I helped our daughter spot digraphs by pointing them out as she read her nightly story. Fortunately, it turned out that there were loads of them in “The Seven Kids.” Not as many as those pesky consonant blends, mind – they get everywhere – but loads nonetheless.

Isn’t it funny how once you know that something exists, you notice it everywhere having never given it a thought previously? The same thing happened when we downgraded our Mercedes to a second hand Vauxhall Meriva. Stupid practical kid cars.

But there’s more to life than books you know, and other ways to learn apart from reading. Apparently, repetition is the mother of all learning, and possibly the father too. A most genius idea of how to identify digraphs popped into my noggin. Why not simply point them out in sentences that we say all the time? Say the sentence, highlight the digraph and repeat, ad infinitum. She’ll be top of the class by the end of the week. Sorted.

You’d like to play along at home too, you say? That’s fine. Here’s some common and useful everyday phrases to get you going. Feel free to add your own. You’re welcome.

Mealtimes

  • What would you like for lunch?
  • No, you can’t have fish fingers and chips again.
  • OK. But wash your hands though.

Leaving the house

  • Why haven’t you got your shoes on?
  • Who moved the car keys?
  • Shut that door… we’re not going anywhere yet.

Tidy up time

  • Where did all this rubbish come from?
  • Who has been throwing Lego down the stairs?
  • I’ll pick it up then, shall I?

Bedtime

  • I thought that I asked you to clean your teeth.
  • Stop pouring shampoo into the bath!
  • That doesn’t look like sleeping.

Essential Everyday Phrases

  • What did mum just say?
  • No, we’re not nearly there yet.
  • Stop pushing your brother!
  • I don’t care who started it.
  • I’m going to count to three…
  • Because I said so, that’s why.
  • What are you crying for this time?
  • I’m not angry!
  • AND I’M NOT SHOUTING!
  • I’m taking you two back to the shop.

That’ll do. I’ve had enough of this. I’m going.

Fin.

Big

In which our reluctant hero considers a big problem. Or something.

On Tuesday, we were unexpectedly woken at a little past 3 A.M. in the morning.

“I… NEED… MUMMY!” wailed the voice of our eldest, half upset, half confused and half asleep.

Of course she did. The kids only need dad for changing batteries, gluing, and watching Lego opening or plane crashes on YouTube. Undeterred, I went to see what was wrong.

I quickly realised that “GO BACK TO SLEEP!” wasn’t the best way to sort things out. After crossing my legs to suppress the more predictable wake up of my bladder, I asked what was wrong. That didn’t help either. After a couple more failed attempts, my wife was deployed to sort things out while I shuffled uncomfortably to the loo.

I returned to bed. There were, at best, two hours of sleep left before I woke an hour before I needed to and bemoaned my lack of sleep. Again. I pondered how much longer that I could exist in permanent zombified autopilot mode before breaking, rolled over, and went back to sleep.

It was my turn to do stories the following evening. Since our daughter started reception class, story time includes her reading to us. She’s good too. So good that she was invited to today’s assembly to get a certificate for “super phonics.” Blimey. (*Annoying “my child is better than your child” proud dad boast face*)

She made light work of most of the book, which was a boring, bitty thing, with a plot so thin that it will probably be made into an ITV daytime drama.

“Wigwam” needed a bit of construction work, as did “Jess” which, amusingly, sounded like an angry “Jees” as she got increasingly fed up with trying to pronounce it.

I was pleased that she read “mum” as “mum” and not “mom” as “mom” isn’t an English word and my children need to learn that (a) we’re not American and (b) the indigenous people of Wolverhampton don’t speak properly. I wrote this in the reading feedback book that four year olds have to complete each bedtime. Isn’t modern life marvellous?

Stories finished, she brought up last night’s “worry” which I’d completely forgotten about, having been to London and back since then. Oops.

I asked my sleepy person what the worry was and whether the worry was still worrysome. We went a few times around the block, but she didn’t tell me. I realised that this was probably as she couldn’t remember what the worry was. Which was a worry.

I reassured her that she can always tell mum and dad anything if she wants to. We chatted about how we don’t have secrets in our house, and how this excluded presents (all types), sneaky chocolates before teeth cleaning without little brothers knowing, and general surprises such as “your birthday cake is a surprise and it is called a fruit cake” which sort of ruins the surprise.

I found the little cloth worry doll bag and hung it on the bedpost, just in case. Reassured, she piped up again.

“Do you know how I got rid of my worry last night?”
“No, I don’t. How?”
“I closed my eyes and thought about something else. I thought about my school. I love going to school.”

Isn’t life straightforward when you’re little? Few adults will think about work to calm down after a bad dream, probably for good reason, but in her world everything was sorted.

The next day, my wife found out the cause of the worry, which was a dream about being trapped in a big hole. Perhaps she had been thinking about work after all?

This got me thinking…

Our children are at fabulous, possibly their best, ages, yet they don’t even realise it. They certainly won’t remember any of it.

They have a few rules, but no barriers as nobody has put them up. They can be impulsive and imaginative. Emotions pour out of them, and they do things simply because they enjoy them.

They live in a fantasy land where a blanket and a pile of shoes turn a bedroom into a shoe shop. Where Father Christmas, The Tooth Fairy, and hope for a better future all exist.

They don’t know of, or understand, terrible things like wars, avocados, or Brexit. They even get stickers at the dentist for crying out loud. All I get is a bill.

I want to tell the kids to enjoy everything while it lasts. Because it doesn’t.

But why doesn’t it? Maybe the rest of us have got it wrong? Maybe us grown-ups could learn from the little ‘uns. Maybe we need to smash through the walls and have some fun.

Never mind take your child to work days, maybe we need the occasional “turn up and act like a child day.”

We should turn bus stop seats into swings to squeeze ten minutes of play into our commutes. We should do dress down Friday any day that we like.

“Why’s the boss still in his ‘jams and covered in chocolate spread?”

BECAUSE, WHY NOT?!

We should pop our wellies on and run around at lunchtime. When we get home, we should have beige food as a nice change from the all so “essential” quinoa.

Chuck away the identikit IKEA pics and stick a picture of Princess Poppy or a “bang helicopter” up on the living room wall. Chuck out the king-size divan. Buy (already assembled) bunk beds and duvet covers with your favourite characters on. Sneak a torch into bed and read under the covers. Then sleep soundly, knowing that if you have a worry, then you can fix it by simply thinking about something else.

OK, perhaps not every day. The country would be bankrupt and on its knees way ahead of the early 2019 deadline for being bankrupt and on its knees if we do. But maybe we can be heroes. Just for one day.

Fin.

Do The Right Thing

In which our reluctant hero is left shocked and saddened after solving a strange and mysterious mystery.

Fantastic boss and all round good egg that I am, I offered to make my team a brew during a recent work trip. Despite the kitchen’s unfamiliar layout lacking logic, I eventually found the cutlery drawer, in which lay some suspiciously sticky looking teaspoons. On closer inspection, the entire contents of the drawer were covered in congealed tea and coffee. Lovely.

I fetched my lens, pipe and deerstalker, and examined the stains which were curious in two respects. Firstly, the splatter patterns suggested repeated small spillages rather than several cupfuls having been chucked in. Secondly, the build up of filth was clearly a slow one, most likely created over several weeks or months. Curious indeed.

The evidence was clear enough, but how was so much mess created and why hadn’t anybody cleaned up? And where do mysteries come from anyway? Nobody knows.

I carefully dislodged a spoon from the plastic inner tray and washed it, allowing a colleague, who had entered the kitchen, access to the drawer. A second colleague appeared from stage right.

With the cast assembled, some questions occurred to me. Would my colleagues notice or be able to explain the mess? Would they wonder why the random visitor stood by the sink, clean teaspoon in hand, was staring intently at them? Would a struggle break out over who got to use the only clean teaspoon in the building? They stood still and silently. I gulped an involuntary gulp.

“The Secret Life of Four Year Olds” was a fascinating insight into children’s behaviours in unfamiliar social situations. In this unremarkable office, I was about to watch grown-up-ish civil servants, with equally awkward social skills, muddle through an unusual cutlery based scene. “The Secret Life of Forty-odd Year Olds That Still Live With Their Parents.” Or something. A real-life kitchen sink drama. Lights, camera, action!

The first man prised a spoon out of the drawer and started to make a coffee. The second man did likewise but with tea. As tea-man attempted to speed up the brewing process with a flurry of stirs and splashes, coffee-man’s drink was ready. I shuffled down the kitchen wall to make room at the sink. Coffee-man turned, looked at me, tossed the wet coffee (tea)spoon back in the drawer and left.

Meanwhile, tea-man popped his used teabag in the bin. Admittedly it was the recycling bin and not the general waste, but top marks for trying. Drink made, he turned, looked at me, tossed the wet tea (tea)spoon back in the drawer and left.

The mystery solved, I was genuinely shocked that grown men could do something quite so minging. Admittedly, I was in Yorkshire, but presumably basic hygiene had reached the North of England by now? I’m told that some houses even have running water and indoor toilets.

This wasn’t the only odd behaviour in the workplace that I’ve encountered. In my usual office, an unidentified fiend wipes up drink spillages with the tea towel. Microwaving uncovered baked beans is another common misdemeanour, as an interesting orange stalactite display testifies. A former workplace built up so many unwashed dishes that a sign saying “Your mum doesn’t work here so do your own bloody washing up” was deployed. Serious stuff. Another sign in the toilets of our London office reminded staff not to defecate on the floor. Yes, really.

What’s most shocking is that I wouldn’t expect my three and four year olds to do any of the above. They learn by mum and dad explaining the right way to do things, and consistently applying the associated behaviours. “Do as I say, not as I do” just won’t cut it. But why? “BECAUSE I SAID SO!”

Our children don’t put dirty spoons back in the cutlery drawer. They sometimes pop them in the washing up bowl or leave them on their plates, which is fine. Most of the time they chuck them across the table in my general direction, or on the floor, which is less fine but they still get cleaned.

If they cause a spill, the kids may find a baby wipe (yep, we’re still buying them and will do forever) to clean up. They know to avoid putting the buttery toast knife in the jam as it will go mouldy if they do. They know that the cutlery in the drawer is ordered “fork, knife, spoon” as the reason why is so obvious that only stupid people would do it differently. They also know that you always need to check that the front door is locked at least twice before going on holiday. Or away for the weekend. Or to Lidl. Sensible, rational, logical stuff. All of it.

OK, we see less desirable results with knowing not to put greasy hands on the newly painted walls, again. Or putting one toy away before getting another out. Or not getting out of bed until the sun is “up up” on the Gro-Clock. And not running into the road as a car may be coming. But it’s not that they don’t know that they shouldn’t do these things, more a case of wanting to crack on with something else.

Perhaps it’s a similar problem at work. Maybe everyone is so busy that time spent washing cutlery would cripple the business. Or maybe if their mums and/or dads had led by example and made them do stuff properly themselves, these problems would have been avoided in later life. Or maybe they’re just a bunch of lazy eedjits. Nobody knows. It’s a mystery.

Fin.

The Prisoner

In which our reluctant hero convinces himself that not everything is his fault.

Having survived the holidays, liked the obligatory “kids in new uniforms photo” and resumed our work and school routines, I checked plans for the next few weeks. To my surprise and horror, Google Calendar was bursting with stuff. How curious.

On closer inspection, almost every new entry that wasn’t work related contained the word “party.” Gawd.

It always puzzles me why there’s quite so many birthdays around this time of year. It’s a proper mystery. But, a mere nine months after several weeks of alcohol fuelled Christmas madness, children’s birthday party season has again kicked off in earnest. No, YOU do the maths.

If you think that your own children’s parties are bad enough, then other people’s children’s parties are definite no-go zones. Forced socialising while sneaking sausage rolls and half-heartedly telling the kids to stop smashing up some other fool’s house or garden, you say? It’s a fate worse than a fate worse than death. And that’s pretty bad.

While I sat pondering potential exit strategies, yet another Facebook invitation pinged up on my wife’s phone.

“Ooh. Look. So-and-so are going to this one. They must have kids now.”
“They had kids before. Don’t you remember last time we saw them? That’s all that they went on about. It was so dull. And I think she’s a teacher now. It’ll be twice as bad.”
“That’s all you go on about now.”
“Oh.”

Yes, yes. This may well be the case since that precious moment when Mr Stork delivered his bundle of what-am-I-supposed-to-do-with-that-ness. But I point blank refuse to accept the blame for it. Let me explain…

The downward spiral starts with identity theft, which is a big problem in an age of Interwebs and stupid people who can only think up one password. Becoming a dad is like having your wallet pinched and online accounts hacked on the same morning. No, really.

I used to be a man (well, close enough to one) called Paul. Shortly after becoming a parent I wasn’t.

“Who’s that?”
“I think it’s so-and-so’s dad.”
“Hasn’t he gone to look old? And fat.”

How rude? I am not a number… I AM A FREE MAN! Anyway, what do I care? I’ve still got my friends. Take that, people at baby groups!

In the olden days, friends were actual real-life people to have an occasional pint and chew the fat with. When I checked this morning, my wife and I had 58 “friends” in common on social media. Or 58 common friends that we both know. Or something.

Now I’m not even sure that I know 58 people, let alone have 58 friends. The only thing I have in common with many of these commoners is having got amorous at about the same time (not together, to clarify) in the distant past, so why they want to be my new bezzie mate is beyond me. But in they trot, because slamming virtual doors into the faces of people who you don’t know is apparently rude. Bah.

Your gate-crashed timelines become slowly saturated with mum and dad boasts, awful anecdotes, nauseous memes and blurry/wonky photos of who knows what. Worse still are those annoying parent blogs, written by terrible self-deluded narcissists who think that they have something relevant or interesting to say. They don’t. They probably also think that they’re clever or funny too. They’re not.

All traces of your former self are eroding. Separating the real you from the semi-fictional representation of people’s perception of what you have become is difficult. In a futile attempt to combat this, I have recently written and shared more posts about other interests. It’s a warm feeling seeing my eclectic mix of interesting stuff being ignored as well as my blog.

At this point, you may panic, bin your phone and consider going out. Don’t bother. It won’t end well.

These days, leaving the house usually involves taking the kids places or going shopping for kid stuff with the kids. Meals out are a modern-day endurance test. If you actually manage the pub, it will be on a “Daddy Date” which means being surrounded by half a dozen blokes who don’t understand the offside rule but have an unhealthy knowledge about extended rear facing car seats. Joy.

A possible escape from this relentless bombardment is work. This is fine in theory, but work is full of the sorts of people who you work with which never bodes well for anything if we’re honest, let alone your sanity. Or fun.

To add further insult to injury, it’s nailed on that you’ve fallen behind the times.

New music has gone all loud and shouty and you play Candy Crush to be in with the kids that it was never aimed at. You may occasionally try using modern language, innit, and emojis but everything comes out like it’s your grandad doing it. *Tim out of The Office face, plane crash, thumbs up*

At least your All Stars still look cool though. They must do. The Prime Minister has the same ones. Oh.

Panic not, there is always the dead time spent commuting to do something enjoyable. But what? Something creative? Reading? Forget it. Any life experiences that you can still recall are by now exclusively child related, and you won’t have the energy to finish the latest Biff, Chip and Kipper let alone Infinite Jest.

So it isn’t your fault, dads. You’ve been daddified and there’s nothing you can do about it. Despite best efforts, you’re as dad a dodo. Get used to it.

On a positive, the kids may leave home in fifteen years or so. Finally, some proper “you” time. Unless, like me, you will be approaching sixty and all that’s left to do is become gradually more right wing and another twenty years of work so that you can afford to retire.

Be seeing you.

Fin.

The Room Upstairs

In which our reluctant hero reaches for his big screwdriver and the “No More Nails.”

I recently read a rather funny blog in which a fellow dad blogger claimed that writing a parenting blog is actually more time-consuming than being a parent. And he is right. It is more difficult too. So difficult in fact that actual parenting comes a pitiful third in the top three list of difficult parenting stuff, behind blogging and assembling flat pack furniture. Specifically children’s beds.

It’s not as if DIY is that hard. I usually make a decent fist of things and have little sympathy for anyone that ends up getting crushed by a falling pile of books while attempting a straightforward task. They only have them shelves to blame.

I say flat pack, but dismantled-at-least-twice-already-and-sprawled-over-the-back-of-a-Vauxhall-Meriva pack would be more accurate. Which is where the problems began.

A second-hand jigsaw is tricky to complete. A third-hand jigsaw with no box, damaged pieces and several integral component parts off on a walkabout is a different challenge altogether.

As a dad, I’m legally obliged to ignore instructions until past the point of no return. You can usually rely on instructions in an emergency, asides from the quick start guide to our Aldi trampoline, unique as even the pictures somehow appeared in a foreign language. The safety net needs attaching first? Ah, yes. It says so on page eighteen.

This time, however, I didn’t even have the safety net of the indecipherable instructions to fall back on. Like George Takei heading to film yet another pointless Star Trek reboot, I was going Sulu.

The main frame looked easy enough to assemble. Two hefty wooden ends with a heavy metal frame suspended four feet in the air. Oh.

After rummaging through the enormous pile of never used Allen keys in my toolbox, I found the only useful one. I immediately called the cavalry and deployed my wife on the manual, unskilled work (heavy lifting duties) while I got on with the technical dad stuff i.e. tightening the bolts. Moments later, it was up. Up but wobbly. I’ll take that.

Next up was the sliding desk unit, which we quickly assembled once we identified the puzzle pieces from the collection of random bits of bed, strewn across the floor. Asides from a missing wheel at the front, it was sturdy enough. Sorted.

The main unit comprised five main structural pieces, some doors and shelves, and a flimsy hammer on back. Problem one. Attaching the sides and dividing middle piece to a suspended bottom section with half of the pegs and locking nuts missing.

At this point, the unhelpful cavalry abandoned their tea and came to provide their unique interpretation of help. The help involved the boy hitting the existing furniture with a hammer while his big sister got on with her new favourite hobby of arguing. Great. Feeling relaxed, I got on with my jobs.

After about fifteen minutes of assembling a twenty kilo house of cards, I popped the top on. It looked fine, but in true house of cards style it toppled. I winced as the chipboard gave out a sickening “crack.”

Plan B kicked off an hour past the little one’s bedtime. It was a simple plan involving bloody great wood screws. Lots of them. This should have been Plan A. In no time the bed was solid enough to chuck the tools and remaining parts on top and get on with (old) bedtime.

I resumed battle with my third-hand chipboard nemesis a couple of evenings on. Within minutes, the final unit collapsed. Of course it did.

Time for Plan C. White plastic assembly joints. Lots of them. This should have been Plan A. In no time the bed was solid enough to hold the Silent Night duck, hippo and all of his mates when the mattress eventually arrived.

Pay attention dads. These little plastic blocks are a bonafide modern-day miracle. If they had been used on London Bridge, it would have never had fallen down. Likewise, the house built by the second little pig. See how you get on trying to blow that down, Wolfie!

Time to finish the job. Half of the panel pins bent when hit (see also my finger) which was a minor annoyance. See also leaning elbow first onto a wood screw. A scary moment occurred when the useful Allen key teetered over a gap between the floorboards like a car over a cliff edge in a Hollywood blockbuster. I plucked it to safety in the nick of time. Phew.

With the bed built, I attached its ladder and the boy ventured up. He seemed pleased despite the missing mattress (thanks Amazon) and we left him try it out while we got on with our nightly falling out with Little Miss Disagreeable. Kids.

So, the morals of the story.

  • Never buy third-hand self-assembly furniture as the money saved is completely negated by the time wasted building the blooming thing.
  • Invest ALL of your free money in plastic, specifically triangular blocks with four holes in. They’re the future.
  • Don’t expect any sort of logic or consistency from girls.

Quite why it has taken me forty-four years to get the last one is beyond me. Perhaps girls would be easier to decipher if they came with an instruction manual?

Fin.