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.

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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.

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.

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.