Much Ado About Nothing

In which our reluctant hero is lost for words. Or something.

Blog

Verb

  • Add new material to or regularly update a blog.
  • Procrastinate, overthink, panic, scribble, over edit, scrape self-imposed deadline, post it, hate it, correct typos, think it’s OK, forget all about it, repeat.

As usual, I’ve been putting writing this week’s post off until the last possible moment. This is not due to any particular will not to do it, more a feeling of there being nothing left for me to say. Let me explain.

The kids are in an almost perpetual weekday routine of breakfast, rehearsing their school nativity, cheese sandwich/school dinners, home, tea, not wanting to clean teeth, not wanting to go to bed, and not wanting dad to do teeth, bedtime or stories.

If you swap “nativity” for “harvest festival” then the list pretty much sums up my last eighteen months of scribbling. I surely can’t get away with mentioning it all in a post again. Can I?

Routine, dull as it is, is a necessary evil needed to maintain order. If only someone could tell the bus drivers, then everyone could calm down again. Having randomly sent buses anything up to ten minutes earlier than the scheduled 6:45 departure for two weeks prior to the timetable change, every single bus has been late since timetable change. All of them. It’s annoying as it happens every single year, which, paradoxically, creates some sort of routine. Or something.

But I can’t write about travel either, can I? That would be as tedious as writing about the weather on the day when the snow kicked in. Yes, I know that it’s snowing. My curtains are special ones that can be opened, and the cat wasn’t white yesterday.

This week’s variation to Groundhog Day is pesky Ernie the Elf, who has been making shoe trains, getting stuck on balloons and up Christmas trees, spilling breakfast everywhere, having midnight tea parties and dying our milk blue. The kids have enjoyed the madness, but nobody wants to read anything else about elves in December. Especially if they’re on Elfbook, as it seems to have become.

Elfbook did give me one source of potential gold, but I could find no way to mine it without creating a bizarre rant about how our five-year-old is developmentally three years ahead of some of her peers. Which she probably is, as my children are always going to be better than yours. Nobody wants to read a load of proud parenting guff either. Next.

People don’t have children in December, it’s more a time for excessive alcohol and clumsy conceptions, so there’s been no children’s birthday parties to moan about again. Another staple source of inspiration lost. Stupid selfish parents.

Even the boy demolishing the best part of two advent calendars with his little friend was more funny than annoying. Any writing about that would probably end up with the hashtag “#blessed” so that’s out too.

It’s four o’clock on Friday. A mere two hours until the blog goes up. The clock is ticking and I have nothing. Not even a sentence. Gawd.

I recently read something about there being nothing left for children to dream up on their own anymore. Perhaps that’s the same for grown-ups too? Perhaps I’ve hit middle age and have already thought every original thought that I’m ever going to have. If so, what’s next?

One most genius strategy could be to simply repeat the same old rubbish time after time and hope that nobody notices. I reckon it could just work too. The centre of the universe is me after all. Well, maybe not me, but you. No, not you you. Everyone else. And the only guarantee in this age of narcissistic self-indulgence is that nobody ever pays attention or listens.

So for now, I’ll hit rewind. I may press play again next week. Who will ever know?

Fin.

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The Nightmare Before Christmas

In which our reluctant hero goes Christmas shopping to save Christmas. Probably.

“Deck the halls with boughs of holly, Fa la la la la, la la la la!
‘Tis the season of LOL Dollies, Fa la la la la, la la la!”

With just under four weeks until I finally stop playing Christmas carols and set fire to my jolly Christmas band jumper, I was sent on a mission. A mission almost impossible, no less. A mission to find a LOL Doll. No, me neither.

Every year, a must have Christmas gift magically appears. No sooner has your Cabbage Patch Kid, Tamagotchi or Hatchimal popped their little head up, then they’re off to Tracy Island to play with a Nerf Gun. All delivered by Amazon Optimus Prime.

It’s December 1st. Your little people will have already fibbed on their Christmas list, claiming to have been good all year. Their lists are essentially a series of ransom demands that Royal Mail’s Santamon 3000 machine will annoyingly promise will be met. Lists completed, you spend the next couple of hours on Google trying to work out what any of the stuff on them is.

“Plastic rubbish with a gazillion percent mark-up, you say? Sorry. All sold out, sir. You do realise that most people buy things before November?”

Stupid organised parents.

The boy’s list was relatively straightforward, if perhaps a little overly specific on the snake front.

  • Green and blue snake
  • Plastic slug
  • Toy Mummy
  • Toy Daddy
  • Toy Madeline
  • Toy Sam
  • Toy wine
  • Green dragon

There was something in the paper this week about children being exposed to twelve junk food adverts an hour. I’m assuming that exposure to toy related advertising must be ten times that if our daughter’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the Argos catalogue is any measure. Her list was far more commercially aware.

  • Cry Baby Doll
  • Lego Friends
  • Dress up clothes
  • LOL Doll
  • Pool table

I had unknowingly been sent to find a LOL Doll in Sainsbury’s on Sunday, but misheard and spent an hour trying to find a green Arabella Doll instead. The lack of such a thing in Google’s image search should have been a clue to its probable non-existence. It occurred to me later that “Arabella Doll” also sounds like a made-up adult film star, and I was relieved that my very public search didn’t result in an embarrassing social faux pas.

Mistake one cleared up, it was time for mistake two.

According to our five-year-old, the LOL Dolls are called LOL Dolls and not LOL Dolls. Obviously. I’m pretty sure that she’s wrong and they should be pronounced LOL Dolls and not LOL Dolls. I’m normally quite good at that sort of thing, unlike those idiots that pronounce scone as scone. Or bath as bath.

After Sunday’s predictably fruitless search, I found some mini LOL Dolls whilst on a lunchtime wander through Birmingham’s increasingly busy Bullring. The Entertainer had some. For a bargain six quid each too, which seemed a lot for something the size of a ping-pong ball. The doll inside presumably being smaller than a Lego figure.

I waved my arms around long enough for the store assistant to look up from Facebook and established that the shop usually sell bigger ones for a tenner, but were sold out of Series 2.

Series 2? Are the dolls actually off a telly programme? Possibly. The now unexpectedly enthused shop assistant was adamant that Series 3 would be arriving, but not until after Christmas. Helpful.

I bought two Kinder LOLs in a pathetic attempt to feel useful, and trudged back towards the office.

The phone rang. There had been a positive sighting. Of LOL. Apparently there were big LOLs (probably thumb sized) in Argos. Woohoo!

A swift reversal and I was off to hand over my hard earned tenner. Go me.

And so it came to pass that Christmas was saved. The rest of the more sensible purchases will be arriving in a big box courtesy of the modern-day miracle that is online shopping. Via Amazon Optimus Prime, naturally.

I’m predicting that most of the accessories, and at least one of the LOL Dolls will be missing in action by Boxing Day. If they’ve got any sense, they’ll most likely have fled the chaos and will be in hiding, possibly supping toy wine with toy daddy.

Fin.

Daddy’s Home

In which our reluctant hero discovers that a working-class hero is something to be. Or something.

On Wednesday, I had a(nother) rare(ish) working at home day.

In the olden days, before Jesus invented laptops and the Internet, I had assumed that “working at home” was some sort of code. This was based on there being pretty much no work that an average civil servant could do at home. Yet, still it went on. The following day, there would usually be an unexplained injury, sunburn or a curious whiff of white spirit from my colleagues.

In my head, WAH on the office board translated as follows;

  • Spring – Decorating the spare bedroom
  • Summer – Mowing the lawn, cutting the hedge or falling asleep in the garden while listening to the cricket
  • Autumn – Raking leaves up and making chutney
  • Winter – Christmas shopping. Or drinking.

Now that I have the technology to escape from the office, this theory is kind of validated. Folk work in some funny places these days, yet the only place conducive for effective working is an actual office.

As I bash this out, the woman sat next to me on the train is working. I’m not keen on working on the train. There’s insufficient elbow room to use a not-as-smart-as-it-thinks-it-is-phone let alone a laptop for starters. There’s also the risk of spillage from the latest performance of the Paper Coffee Cup Dancing Company. Factor in no Internet and Mr “I’m about to go into a tunnel… Hello… HELLO!” in the opposite seat and it’s barely worth logging on.

While working on trains is out, working at home is slightly more achievable with a bit of discipline. However, throw small children into the mix, and that’s a different proposition.

The state of the house should cause the first klaxon to sound. Look around. Does it look like an environment where anything gets done? There’s last week’s washing still on the radiators, dust covering the telly and Shreddies trampled into the carpet. And that’s just the dining room.

My typical working day involves getting in super early and hammering my “to do” list for several hours before the “urgent” distractions (bad planning/incompetence of others) and general apathy kick in.

The earliest that I can realistically start working at home is 8:15, once everyone has gone. However, it takes another half an hour to make a brew, de-stress and clear enough space to set the laptop up, by which point it’s not worth starting until 9:00.

Up to lunchtime, some of what I’m getting paid for actually gets done. As does some washing.

The boy normally arrives back at about midday so it seems sensible to stop for lunch. He will be in immediate need of a cheese sandwich (yellow, not orange cheese) with cucumber on the side, not on the sandwich. And Peppa Pig on the telly please. Every. Single. Day.

At around 1pm, the sandwich will either be eaten or chucked in a tub in the fridge to be thrown out later.

If my wife is home, I will have about two hours to sneak a bit more work in before the big one gets back from school. Whatever I’m doing from then will have to wait as the laptop will be part of the doctor’s waiting room, school or birthday party that my makeshift office has become.

At this point, it’s officially time to give up. It’s nearly tea time anyway, and we’ll need the dining room table soon.

Not to worry. The thing about working at home is that it doesn’t matter when I do the work, as long as I do it. I can simply make the time up in the evening, once the kids are asleep.

Here’s a top tip. The best way to mentally prepare for a couple of hours of focus and hard graft is to avoid the following;

Making tea, helping the kids eat their tea, binning uneaten tea, washing up, wiping remnants of tea off the table, chairs and possibly walls, tidying up, hoovering, bath time, chasing after children with ‘jamas time, tidying up the stuff that was brought back out while dealing with the mini bathroom flood, and arguing about teeth, stories and bed.

With the kids safely incarcerated, cue collapse, relaxing beverage of choice and shouting at the end of The One Show. Game over. Work was never going to happen, was it?

The scores on the doors are usually as follows;

  • Work Completed – Some
  • Flexi Balance – Four hours debit

I’ve got used to it now, though. I know that I need a few hours in the bank, and I need to prioritise. That way it feels like I’m achieving something. Probably.

The moral of the story is a familiar one to parents and home workers alike.

If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success.

Fin.

The Washing Machine

In which our reluctant hero receives some most terrible news.

A terrible, terrible thing happened to us this week. The washing machine packed up. It has kicked the bucket and thrown the towel in, followed by the shirts and a couple of pairs of undies. It has bitten the dust. Which is ironic as it was a Hoover.

We should have spotted the signs. It had been increasingly erratic and unpredictable for a while. First the door handle snapped off, which I repaired, but sadly the inner locking mechanism also stopped working. No matter. A couple of weeks of sticking my arm inside to manually lock and unlock the catch was annoying, but we could still wash and dry.

Randomly selected wash cycles followed, which was also annoying, but not the end of the world.

But, then, suddenly, the machine stopped draining properly, rendering it about as useful as a chocolate Brexit secretary. Bugger.

The washing machine breaking is possibly the third worst thing that could happen in life, after death and manufacturers removing more of the triangly bits from Toblerones.

If I checked the washing on a Sunday evening in the olden days (BC – before children) there would be at worst a basketful. I would probably leave it there too as it wouldn’t seem worth the trouble of putting the machine on. And besides, I could save some leccy.

A broken machine wouldn’t have been an issue back then. The washing could be dropped off at the launderette or hand washed in the sink at a push.

Back to the present (AD – After Duggee) and the basket is practically full come teeth and story time each evening.

Excluding the grown-up stuff, there will be two full sets of school uniform, plus an extra set of trousers, socks and underpants should any accidents have occurred. Possibly more.

There will also be the previous night’s pyjamas, pebble dashed with dried on cornflakes and fruit juice reduction.

No autumnal or winter’s day would be complete without a couple of coats having been dropped or dragged through the mud, or their sleeves used to clean mud off the car door. See also hats and gloves.

Then there’s the dressing up clothes and the rogue collection of discarded socks, pants and jumpers that pop up in random places across the house each evening.

Leave that lot over the course of a week and astronauts will be wondering what the curious non-wall shaped structure that they can suddenly spot from the International Space Station is.

There’s too much of it to wash in the bath. We have no river in Wolverhampton to take it to and bash it with rocks either. There’s the canal I suppose, but that’s a bit stinky.

Asking the council to fill the public paddling pool in Tettenhall back up may be an option, but that idea would probably be quashed by our glorious self-appointed community spokespeople. There would be more chance in getting stocks and gallows reinstalled on the green. They’re actually planned for March 2019, once the wall is completed.

Assuming that we did somehow manage to get the washing washed, how would we get it dry?

It’s November and we’re in Blighty. We’re therefore down to minimum daylight hours, assuming that the clouds ever shift and the drizzle stops long enough to let some light through.

We can’t hang it over the bath as the bath is needed several times a day. Our boiler would need to be powered by a nuclear reactor to get the radiators in our 1900’s house hot enough to dry everything before the next load appeared.

So it came to pass that on a cold Tuesday night, I took advantage of an early Black Friday offer and arranged for a new machine to be delivered on Saturday morning.

It’s off to the recycling centre for you old friend. Not the Wolverhampton one, obviously. It will be much more pleasing to get the suckers in South Staffordshire to pay for its disposal by taking it to the skips in Bilbrook.

It’ll be a sad day, but the thing I’m looking forward to most about Saturday is finding out just how much fun that I can have playing with a new washing machine.

Loads. Probably.

Fin.

Star Wars – A New Hope

In which our reluctant hero discovers the answer to life, the universe and everything. In Leicester, of all places.

Last Saturday we managed an actual proper day out that wasn’t to a children’s birthday party. That was on Sunday.

To say that the boy was excited about going to see an enormous space rocket at the National Space Centre was an understatement. Before breakfast, he found his Playmobil space shuttle and astronaut before commencing repeated countdown and “BLAST OFF!” activities from his cornflake bowl launchpad. For about an hour. With his volume turned up to eleven. The neighbours must love us.

Our daughter was less enthused. This was presumably as “boring space things” are boring boy things and not boring girl things. She wanted us to watch My Little Pony at the cinema instead. This was a non-starter, partly due to a half thought out excuse related to avoiding gender stereotyping, but mainly due to its two star review in The Guardian.

Ridiculous child-imposed boy-girl constraints asides, I was puzzled by her lack of enthusiasm to do something different. Seeing a real-life space rocket and bona fide moon cheese should appeal to children of pretty much any age or gender, right? Even big children like me.

Why was she reluctant to try something new? And why is the answer to any new suggestion a firm “no”, or more likely “Noah” as my kids were born in Wolverhampton.

Was she worried that it may be too crowded there with not enough space? Or maybe concerned about a lack of atmosphere? (Dr) Who knows?

If in doubt Google it.

The search results included some interesting ideas, such as children having “not developed a feelings vocabulary” or change being perceived as loss. Of what, I’m not sure. Possibly my wages in the souvenir shop.

But Google was largely of the opinion that my children, and everybody else’s for that matter, must be on the autistic spectrum, because that’s what pretty much every parenting piece from 2017 says about anything. How on earth did we manage before the need to label everything became a thing?

Having dismissed the Internet for being stupid, I decided to stop messing about and ask somebody who would give it to me straight.

Alexa. Why do children always say no?

I couldn’t find an answer to your question.

Alexa. What is a good day out for children?

I couldn’t find an answer to your question.

Alexa. What do children find fun?

A telephone, or phone, is a communications device that permits two or more users to conduct a conversation when they are too far apart to be heard directly.

Helpful. Probably.

With no clear answer, I decided to consider options of how to muster some enthusiasm all by myself.

Let The Kids Decide
The kids can’t agree on what to watch on telly, let alone where to spend a day. Be it a trip to Disneyland, Alton Towers or Lidl, one or the other will say they don’t like it just because that’s what they do. Next.

Mystery Trips
What could be more fun? Mystery trips were all the rage in the olden days, but are a lot more difficult to pull off now.

We need to be at the station for 8:37.

OK. Are we going to the Lake District or Edinburgh, dad?

Oversell It
Maybe hyping a place up is the answer then? Yes, the Pen Museum is a wonderful day out. It’s that good that I’m almost sure that they filmed a Mr Tumble there.

The flaw in this otherwise genius plan is the risk of underdelivery. Sure, the little people may be excited at first, but once they’ve looked through the eleventh drawer of old nibs without so much of a whiff of a scented rubber, there’s going to be trouble.

In the end, we went for a fourth option, which was essentially a variation of “Shut up and get in the car!”

Needless to say, both children enjoyed the trip. We spent the best part of five hours digging up “moon rocks”, learning about stars and evolution, and watching lady boffins fire pop bottle rockets. Clearly science is a girl thing too then, a point emphasised repeatedly over the following days.

Like with most things we do as parents, I’m not sure that there is a right answer to whatever my question was. Option four worked this time, but will it next time?

There is one bit of advice that you should always follow though. Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you plan-et properly.

I’ll get me coat.

Fin.

The Hours

In which our reluctant hero rolls back the years. Probably.

On Saturday morning I felt reasonably awake for the first time in ages. I pondered this curious phenomenon and realised that, after almost six months of utter turmoil, my body had finally got used to the change to British Summer Time way back in March. Hoorah!

Feeling buoyed by this unexpected second wind, I popped the radio on and made a celebratory cuppa. The BBC were reporting some terrible news. That very evening would see “the hour” given back. Down with this sort of thing.

On Wednesday morning, I was awake at 4:45am failing to cram a much needed extra hour of zeds in before a round trip to London. By Wednesday evening, I was convinced that I was more tired than when the kids were newborns. This was at best dubious, more realistically ludicrous, but I was too tired to argue myself down. Stupid the hour.

Another person blaming the hour for random stuff was our a-day-off-being-a-five year old, who was annoyed that she had to wait longer than everyone else for her birthday.

This was ridiculous. The actual longest day, as calculated by both boffins and lady boffins, is the day before MY birthday. Her maths simply didn’t add up. If you were to add or remove an hour to or from an already short day, the answer would be still shorter than the day after the longest day. Or something. And she’s supposed to be the clever one.

As if another six months of semi jet-lag and moany children wasn’t enough to contend with, there were some other annoyances associated with the clocks going back to contend with.

  1. Your social media timelines will invariably be saturated with (“hilarious”) posts stating that Teresa May or Jeremy Corbyn have put their clocks back to the 1930s, depending on which way your echo chamber has been configured. It’s about as predictable and funny as the Andy Murray being Scottish or British thing come Wimbledon.
  2. See also an extra hour of babysitting for CBeebies, Nick Jr and the like.
  3. Your cooker and car clocks will be the last to catch up. Once fiddled with, your cooker will also inadvertently sound random alarms for at least another fortnight, possibly six months.
  4. You are guaranteed to have missed or had to run for the bus on Monday morning, not because you weren’t up early, but because the bus driver was up earlier.
  5. Folk will start banging on about buying a SAD alarm clock, even though it’s been dark at get up time for weeks.
  6. You’ll be told something about it being easier for the postman or milkman, even though milk comes from Aldi and the post arrives at about lunchtime if at all.
  7. See also children walking to school, although hardly any do. Apart from ours.

There are probably loads more of these to add, but I’m so tired that I’ve forgotten them. Or slept through them. Or something.

So, for the next six months, I will be blaming the hour for everything. Just like last year and the year before. Insomnia, burning the toast, not writing my book, not doing the ironing, Woolworths going bust, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Brexit, Trump, famine, the continued existence of Katie Hopkins… everything.

Then I’ll just do it all again in reverse, like whatever the opposite of time travel is. Which should have been number eight on my list.

Fin.

Trading Places

In which our reluctant hero is surprised to be gender stereotyped by a four year old. Probably.

In a change from Tuesday’s normal pre-bedtime routine, our four year old daughter decided to decorate our bedroom. This sort of “decorating” usually involves picking a theme, then collecting and arranging random stuff from around the house on our bed until her vision of loveliness is realised. Yay.

As usual, we were banned from upstairs while she made herself busy. At least this was organised, purposeful mess making, which made a nice change from the standard random bedtime destruction.

Meanwhile, we had forgotten about the boy who had been doing some decorating of his own in the dining room. Thankfully his felt pen based installation was confined to the wipeable fireplace tiles, thus avoiding the need to rebrand my blog as “Babysitting The Kid.”

Job complete, my wife ventured up to inspect the work. There were no shouts or screams, which was promising, so I headed up too.

Before our eyes lay a sort of pillow based mural of the things that mum and dad love. On mum’s side, there was mostly family and running related things. Fair enough. My side was more select, featuring representations of books, football, wine and success.

I was naturally disappointed by the omission of UHU glue, gluing things being by second hobby after football. Perhaps music should have been there as a replacement for “success.” I am a civil servant after all, so it’s probably not relevant. (See also “valued” and “pay rises.”)

It was a curious interpretation of our relative roles and personalities. Despite me being quite hands on as a parent, and in family life generally, our daughter’s perception was that mums love their family and dads would rather watch the football. Hmmm.

Rather than get the hump at having the best part of five years hard graft devalued and shoved back in my face, I decided to try to work out why she thought this way.

Could the answer be as simple as the working parent versus the stay at home parent thing? Dad works so mum looks after us.

Maybe, but last week I reorganised work to do the school run and attend harvest festival. This week, I took a couple of days off and spent time making some most excellent Halloween decorations amongst other things. It is possible that this good work was undone by a couple of nights away with work later in the week though. Stupid conferences.

Perhaps television is to blame then? There are few positive male role models in TV programmes generally, let alone in any that the kids watch. Dads are often portrayed as being hands off, lazy, and/or useless at parenting, with mums assuming the stronger role. The likes of Daddy Pig, Homer Simpson, and Topsy and Tim’s dad spring immediately to mind as fitting this stereotype. All have less rubbish partners who tend to sigh a lot while putting everything right.

At least Daddy Pig and Homer are likeable characters though. Topsy and Tim’s dad on the other hand is one of those massively annoying sorts that you just know owns a dozen musical ties and is no doubt “a laugh” at the office. I’d love to know the back story of how Mr and Mrs “and Tim” got together, as she is so far out of his league their being together is just not plausible.

It’s easy to see how the general buffoonery of the TV dad may influence our daughter’s thinking. Yet, some time back, we asked who she thought was the cleverest out of our various relatives and their partners. She picked boy over girl every time which seems to suggest not.

Perhaps it’s the influence of school or school friends instead? That would perhaps explain why everything now has to be pink, why dresses need to be twirly and shoes sparkly. That’s what all of the other girl children insist on after all. Even at four and five there’s a desire to fit in.

But it doesn’t end there. Despite our best attempts to challenge stereotyping, our daughter has started to look at us like we’re mad if we try to convince her that girls can be doctors and boys can be nurses, even though her doctor is female. Football is also a boy thing, while dolls are for girls. A pint for the bloke, and a glass of wine for the lady. Oh.

So, are the little people inadvertently heading down the well-trodden path of stereotyping and gender based limitations and inequality or am I just over thinking everything again?

Children’s perceptions of everything are skewed after all. Money comes out of a plastic card and never runs out, Alexa knows the answer to every conceivable question, and they still don’t find the Frozen songs grating after a couple of years of listening to them.

Or perhaps the little people are playing happily at the centre of their own private universe, not concerned about any of this stuff. And maybe us parents should stop over analysing things at such young ages, let them work things out for themselves, and steer as necessary as they get bigger. Like when they get to five, or something.

Fin.