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.

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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.

Brassed Off

In which our reluctant hero breaks a leg. Or something.

In a change from my usual routine of work and mildly amusing parenting mishaps, I’ve been doing something for me over the last week or so. I have been treading the boards. In a play. A play at a proper theatre no less. Blimey.

“Brassed Off” hit Wolverhampton to a flurry of press interest, five star reviews and a top trending twitter hashtag (#brassedoffwlv) to boot. It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable time of music, camaraderie, and hanging around in a sweaty dressing room with half naked middle-aged men. This is where I’m currently sat, frantically bashing at my androidPodTunesPhone in an pitiful attempt to ignore all of the wobbling. Every silver lining and all that.

Back in the day, before gluing things became my main hobby, I was quite musical. I learned brass, guitar, bass, bad piano and random bits of percussion that became affectionately known as “The Early Learning Centre Orchestra.” I’m no virtuoso at any of these things, but manage well enough for it to have presented some interesting experiences, of which performing in Brassed Off is the latest.

I’ve played Roy Castle’s trumpet on stage with Roy Castle, played at Wembley (not on the pitch), at Molineux (on the pitch), at various gigs and festivals and apparently shared a corporate pastie with KT Tunstall and Whispering Bob Harris (whoever they are.) I’ve performed at a tribute night for one of my favourite songwriters, Elliott Smith, and played on a Kerrang Radio single of the week. I even got recognised at the Latitude music festival a few years back, much to the annoyance of my wife who instantly realised there would be plenty of miles in this anecdote. And, as ever, she was right.

I could go on, but that’s enough blowing my own trumpet. There’s a post to write.

Playing an instrument is great isn’t it? Well, yes… and no. It’s great when you’re fairly decent at it, but you have to spend an eternity learning the blooming thing. And we all know how much pain that can cause, mostly for everyone else.

Little people are sponges and learn things far more quickly than us dinosaurs, but what should ours start with?

Brass
Let’s go route one here. I play brass, hence the Brassed Off. I remember learning to play brass. People learning brass have two volume settings. Loud or off. Technically, there’s one between known as “split” and you hear a lot of that. If the twelve hours or so of child generated noise wasn’t grating enough, add an hour of “Little F & G March” to the mix and wave goodbye to your sanity.

We have a plastic trombone thing at home which may work as a sort of compromise though. It’s certainly useful for waking the missus up on a Saturday morning ready for Park Run.

Keyboards
What could possibly go wrong with a piano? Well, shove one down a mine shaft and you’ll end up with A-flat minor for starters. Ahem.

Purists, close your ears now. The real things have to go. Electronic equivalents have volume knobs which are an absolute life saver. Or they would be if turning everything up to eleven and pressing the demo button wasn’t the instinctive reaction of the average three year old. I may well be haunted by Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are” beyond my almost certain premature grave.

Strings
The phrase “sounds like a cat being strangled” exists for a reason that has little to do with cats and strangling. Adult human ears shouldn’t be exposed to the torture that is a child learning a violin. It’s inhumane. My head can’t get past thinking that all children’s string recitals most likely sound like Penderecki’s “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima.” But accidentally. Am I prepared to be proved wrong? No thanks.

Guitar and Bass
A more acceptable alternative perhaps, especially if acoustic, and I can teach them the basics. But what if the little people start wearing rock pants and get curly perms or, worse still, learn slap bass? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

If a bass player attempted to slap a bass when I was in bands, it was perfectly acceptable to slap them repeatedly until they stopped. Apparently you’re not allowed to do that to children though. Stupid government and their pro eighties rock stance. Bah.

Woodwind
Everybody remembers learning the recorder, right? Did you continue with it? Exactly.

The flute has appeal due to its size and general wispiness, but nobody actually gets to learn the flute as schools are still working through the EU clarinet mountain from way back. Should an instrument really be making a sound like a buzz saw suffering from radio interference? No. It shouldn’t. And did you hear the one about the clarinetist who played in tune? No, neither did I.

Percussion
Last, and most definitely least, we have the more hitty half of the Drum ‘n’ Bass engine. Cue wannabe Ringos.

I wrote about us getting a drum kit some weeks back and, fortunately, the initial enthusiasm for this has long gone. As has the washer and wing nut holding the cymbal on. *Ting*

Terrible din asides, there’s only one issue that I have with the little people learning percussion and that it’s not really learning music, is it? Drummers are the sort of people who join bands to hang out with musicians. And what to they actually do? Beats me.

Seeing as that hasn’t helped, and I’m shortly on stage to win the National Finals at the Royal Albert Hall for the tenth time this week, I’ll finish with an appropriate little tale. Probably.

An A, a C, and an E walk into a pub, and the landlord says, “Sorry, we can’t serve minors.”

Fin.

Lost In Translation

In which our reluctant hero gets caught up in a missing persons search. Or something.

Modern life is rubbish. OK, perhaps not totally rubbish, but it is certainly very different to the heady days of my youth when Britain was just a series of empty, interconnected fields and the Internet was in black and white. (See also nostalgia not being as good as it used to be.)

Take the Internet, for example. Is it a bonafide modern-day miracle, or an unstoppable time vacuum? The fountain of all knowledge, or the place where all trivial things become national scandals for the afternoon before shuffling off again by breakfast?

Earlier this week, somebody hit the four year snooze button on that London’s Big Ben while maintenance work is carried out. Blimey. A bong-less Ben? How ever will Trevor MacDonald cope?

Twitter descended into yet another series of bizarre rants, as eedjits from across the land gathered in Parliament Square to sob as the last bong (asides from all of the other bongs scheduled over the next four years, as stipulated in the small print) rang out. In other unrelated Twitter news, the hashtag is apparently ten years old this week. #whocares #notnews

In the olden days, nobody outside the capital would have known, or cared, about Big Ben’s missing bong. These were simpler times where we could channel our emotions properly, only getting upset about important things like the football results or teddy being missing at bedtime.

Tuesday evening. Just after seven.
Tuesdays often involve a double bedtime shift for me. This week’s routine went as so.

  • Teeth. Tick.
  • Toilet. Tick.
  • Story one, read over the constant muttering of “what’s he doing?” or “what’s that?” while not listening and playing with a tractor instead. Tick.
  • Tuck in. Tick.
  • Cuddle teddy… Uh-ho. DON’T PANIC!

A search party was quickly assembled and the smallest small person’s bedroom got a thorough going over. Toy boxes were emptied and he used his Paw Patrol torch to shine light under things, behind the bed and at the back of the drawers. Nothing.

I’m not sure if I imagined a shout of “CLEAR!” or not but, either way, both children were soon off to children’s bedroom two. Another blank drawn, they rushed down the hall, stopping to wait for me at the stairs.

“I’ll look in our bedroom, you two check the bathroom.”
“No daddy. We don’t have to check over there. Mummy says that NO TOYS are to be taken that side of the stairs. Not one. It’s a new rule. We need to look downstairs.”

Now call me Old Mr Sceptical, but asking children not to move toys is like asking the cats to stay in our garden and be back by sunset. The only guarantee is that once dark, there’s no cats.

Perhaps this time the children are sticking to the rules. Perhaps they’ve finally started listening to mum and dad. Stranger things have happened. That badger scoring a hole in one at the British Open for one. Probably.

We headed downstairs. Living room. “CLEAR!” Hall. “CLEAR!” Dining room. “CLEAR!” Kitchen. CLEAR! (asides from the grill pan which was still soaking in the sink.)

Then our daughter piped up.

“I know where teddy is. HE’S IN THE BOTTOM TOILET.”

I assumed that she meant the bottom bathroom, but conceded that if the boy had moved teddy then in the toilet was far more likely. This was bear-ly worth thinking about. Water way to go.

We approached cautiously, fearing the worst. Our suspicions were confirmed. There was no teddy, just a mysterious pool of water on the floor. There was only one rational explanation. Teddy had been vapourised.

Defeated, the boy trudged back upstairs to bed whereupon something truly magical happened. His big sister offered him Princess Poppy to cuddle instead. Delighted by this unexpected gesture, he offered Mr Crocodile up for exchange cuddles, turned in and the crisis was over. Phew.

Back in our daughter’s room, I drew the curtains and praised her for doing such a kind thing. She seemed preoccupied as she picked her story book. Suddenly, the reality of the situation kicked in. No Princess Poppy at bedtime. Gawd.

I quickly agreed a compromise. The boy was clearly knackered and I would attempt to retrieve the crazy haired princess after stories, if he was nearly asleep. Simples. Phew.

Then… footsteps. Loud footsteps on a wooden bedroom floor no less. Thump clunk thump! CLICK!

“DADDY! I KNOW WHERE MY TEDDY IS. TEDDY IS IN THE ATTIC!”

That’ll be the attic bedroom on the side of the stairs that the toys aren’t allowed in then. Of course he is.

Down the hall.
Thump clunk! Thump clunk! Thump clunk!

Up the attic stairs.
Slip trip! Slip trip! Slip trip!

Approach the bed.
Tipto! Tiptoe! Tiptoe!

WHAT’S THAT?
One yoghurt covered nose!
Two little furry ears!
Two little button eyes!

“I FOUND MY TEDDY!”

Quick!

Back down the stairs!
Slip trip! Slip trip! Slip trip!

Back down the hall.
Thump clunk! Thump clunk! Thump clunk!

Into the bedroom.
Into bed.
Under the covers.

Oh no!
We forgot to shut the door.

Shut the bedroom door… SLAM!

“I WANT THE DOOR OPEN, NOT CLOSED!”
“GO TO SLEEP!!!”

Wednesday evening. Just after seven.

“Mummy. Daddy lost my teddy last night…”

I’m not going on a bear hunt again.

Fin.

Apocalypse Now

In which our reluctant hero ponders something about nothing.

I have a confession to make. I have joined some online blogging groups. There. I’ve said it. I’m not proud. I know what sort of people lurk around in these God forsaken places. But I have it under control. I know what I’m doing. Probably.

It has been an interesting experience so far. Learning the new language was an early challenge. I soon discovered new concepts too, like “guest blogging” which is where writers tootle off to breed cats in the Congo for a fortnight (or similar) while random strangers queue up to write their post. Why anyone would allow this is beyond me. Perhaps I’m missing a trick?

The groups are safe places to ask advice and discuss problems too. This week, a blogger was shocked and saddened to learn that she had accidentally started World War III by posting what could politely be described as a parenting “opinion piece.” President Trump must have been on fire and furious.

The first paragraph of the post was enough to tell me that she had turned up at a gunfight with a water pistol. Having randomly squirted the gang leaders, an unceremonious mowing down occurred during the resulting crossfire.

It was never going to end well. Once the ill-informed genie was out of its sterilised plastic bottle, there was no going back. The topic? Yes, you’ve guessed it. “Bottle v Boobs.” What could possibly go wrong?

Keen to help future generations avoid the same tragic fate, I have put together the definitive (just thought up) guide to blog topics to avoid if you insist on being one of those irritating parent blogger types. Which you shouldn’t, as all it achieves is yet more tedious reading dumped into the giant blog bin in the sky.

Bottle v Boob
According to the dictionary, I am technically classed as a man. As a man of maturing years, I am slowly gaining the apparatus to facilitate feeding, if not the actual ingredients. Even if a medical miracle were to occur to help inform my scribbles, I am wise enough to run the other way. Every mum, and I mean EVERY mum, has established their position and they are going to defend it to the bitter end. Cat, meet pigeons. Lemmings, meet cliff. Blog, meet delete key. It’s for the best.

Stay at Home v Back to Work
“Why have children if you’re not going to bother looking after them?” or “I’m making this sacrifice FOR my children, actually” are common opening gambits here. Unless you are a financial planning expert, know the domestic circumstances and support circle of every potential reader, and have recently moved to a mountain cave, back away from the keyboard. If you do go wading in, avoid the term “working mothers” at all costs. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

Disposable v Reusable Nappies
We were going to do the earth mother thing and save the planet. We managed about a week or so too. Then living in the world’s coldest house during a subzero winter and that utterly repugnant smell proved too much. If you persevered, good for you. Have a medal. We missed out on bronze. Bothered?

Dummy v No Dummy
Yes, everybody is aware of the potential ear and dental problems caused by using dummies and the flip side of a lower risk of SIDS occurring. Our children went dummy free, but the youngest had constant ear problems (yellow “pusks”) as an infant and is still a thumb sucker aged three. We repeatedly tell him it will drop off but he’s having none of it. Nor does he believe that the other thing that he constantly plays with will drop off either. You simply can’t win.

Food and Drink
Water or squash? Baby led weaning or slop? Occasional fast food or organic quinoa every meal? You’re all mad.

Children need to eat and drink. Like adults, a variety of foods are required to gain a nutritional balance. Which is all well and good, right until your child randomly stopping eating previous staples in aged two. If you’re lucky. Do what makes you happy (not your kids) and stop going on about it. It won’t matter what you do. Trust me.

Piercings and Snips
An discussion complicated, rightly or wrongly, by these practices being ingrained in certain cultures. Circumcision is traditional in Jewish and some Muslim communities for example, to symbolise faith in God, and piercings are ritually administered to the children of Chavs. It’s a braver man than me that would take this topic on, and I’m not keen on getting glassed. Next.

Sleep Training v Co-sleeping
Do whatever it takes for everyone to sleep safely. End of debate.

Routine v Attachment Parenting
Clearly there’s pros and cons to both. But if your little darling is actually a little sod a couple of years in, then whatever your choice was, it was the wrong one. OK?

Natural Birth vs C-section
“Oh, you had a cesarean? Were you disappointed?”
“Not really. My baby had his umbilical cord wrapped around his throat, but the doctors got him out safely.”

Isn’t the medical profession wonderful?

Pretty Much Anything to do With Parenting
Never mind blogging, it’s just safer not to reveal your position on anything as someone will get the hump. Get that fence comfortably between your cheeks and stay put.

To summarise, it seems that it is better for parent bloggers to avoid writing about anything. Which is exactly what I just did. You’re welcome.

Fin.

Summer Holiday

In which our reluctant hero tackles a tricky side issue of the summer holidays.

A few weeks into holibobs and, according to antisocial media, parental opinion about how things are going is divided.

In the blue corner there’s the survivalists. Having scraped through July, these everyday folk are nervously approaching the summit of Mount August, hoping to erect a flag and get down without further slips, trips or falls. They’re finding it tough going. Some time away would probably help, but with the cost of four summer nights in a grotty holiday camp roughly equivalent to Greece’s national debt, it’s not going to happen.

In the rose-tinted corner there’s the “Why did you have children if you don’t actually like children?” brigade. For them, summer is stuck in the 1950s. They actually plan their idyllic days out, which I imagine involve skipping through wheat fields, blackberry picking and supping lashings of ginger beer with their lunchtime picnics. Obviously, they find time to tut disapprovingly at the blue lot, who retaliate with a few hurriedly typed uppercuts before retreating behind the sofa to sob into a bottle of gin.

For most of us, the reality is between these extremes. Other parents are off work so you can hang out and ignore your respective kids together, instead of at home alone. You needn’t venture too far or break the bank to fill the days either. With a little effort, it’s not hard to make better, more organised friends who source fun days out and eagerly share on Facebook to help inform your own “planning.” Sorted.

I’ve spent most of the summer having a rest at work. Meanwhile, my wife is finding the holidays a breeze compared to the normal weekday chaos of drop-offs, pickups, work and pacifying tired children who, on a bad day, make the current Trump v Kim Jong-un standoff look like an episode of Topsy and Tim.

The family have got through an insane amount of activities (National Trust visits, mud kitchens, donkey riding, Samaritans volunteering, baby raving, the Wolves in Wolves wolf trail, to list but a few) without me, and seem to be having a ball. I’m almost tempted to join them. Almost.

What’s more amazing is that jobs are getting done in, around and to the house too. Tradesmen are quoting for things, the dining room has been decorated and a mass declutter has started. The house is finally pretty tidy and I’ve not had to wash or iron for weeks. My wife has even created a daily to do list which is pretty much cleared by bedtime. Scary stuff.

I don’t know quite where these recently acquired ninja skills have come from, and I’m half expecting my “Bobby Ewing” moment or a police caution for moving into somebody else’s house, but until such time I’ll sit back.

It’s not all naps and Netflix on the train for me, the humble worker, though. The dumping of tens of thousands of wandering imposters into my well-drilled daily routine causes its own almost insurmountable challenges to be, err… surmounted.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Getting to work
Actually, asides from a few uneducated people causing chaos by sitting in the wrong seats on the bus, this a doddle. There’s fewer cars on the road and I can normally get an actual proper seat on the train. Coincidentally, London Midland lost their rail franchise today. Good. Commuters 1, Everyone Else 0.

However, home time is a different prospect altogether.

Return to New Street
Birmingham New Street has been transformed from an aging concrete monolith into the world’s shiniest shiny new thing. Its mirrored surface extends so high that I can use it to clean my teeth at my desk if I get the angles right. You can’t miss it, yet from about half four onwards you can’t get near it.

The solution? A “British Bulldogs” style charge through the sea of people blocking the entrance. Who says that exposing children to the odd bit of senseless violence is always a bad thing. Useful life skills, innit?

The Station
Steam locomotion has been around since 1804. So how, in the year 2017, can anybody not understand the basic concepts of catching a train? Yet thousands of these social inadequates somehow manage to organise themselves sufficiently to descend on the station concourse every rush hour from July until mid-September.

Buying tickets, negotiating the barriers, using escalators and deciphering the information boards is simply beyond these people. How did they even get out of bed, let alone find the station?

In the absence of a handy shortcut to Platform 9¾, a slow walk with a regular “excuse me” is the only way through. Meh.

The Train
More by luck than by judgement, some of the flummoxed flashmob eventually break ranks and board a train. Further chaos ensues as they wander up and down, trying to find four free table seats at peak time.

Unsurprisingly, they are blissfully unaware of seat reservations. Look at the headrest, or look above the seat. If there’s no ticket, or the display says “available” then sit down in the first seat that you see. Else, find a luggage rack like the rest of us. It’s really not that hard.

Finally settled, they’ll drop some of their cold Burger King chips before heading off with a random little person to play toddler roulette with the “open door” button of the toilets while spending a penny.

The Bus Home
What’s the optimum time for a convoy of seven parents, three grandparents, eighteen children and enough double buggies to fill Mothercare to board a bus? Have a guess. Go on.

If your answer is “Sometime between 5pm and 7pm?” then stop reading now. You’re not welcome around these parts.

The Final Problem
Having negotiated the rest, the half mile stroll back to our house can go one of two ways. If it is raining, which it invariably is this August, then it is fine (if that makes sense?) Tick. If it is sunny, a detour is required to avoid the army of visiting chavs who gather to litter the public paddling pool at the end of our road. Hasn’t anybody told them that this is a local paddling pool for local people? Living in Codsall doesn’t give you a free pass until South Staffs let us back in their county either. The sooner the Great Wall of Tettenhall goes up, the better.

So there you go. I feel much better now. Thanks.

Fortunately, there’s only another five weeks of this daily commuting ordeal for us to survive. Maybe I should take a few days off and spend them travelling with the kids to unwind? That’ll help. Probably.

Fin.

Milk

In which our reluctant hero tackles a touchy subject with great care, in case it is still sore.

Anybody with small people, or anybody with friends or family with small people and a Fakebook account, will be aware that it is World Breastfeeding Week again. Or is it National Breastfeeding Week again? Which one was in June?

Anyway…

Having blogged my blog almost TO DEATH for fifteen months, and sporting my shiny “NCT Blogger” badge last time round, I looked for an old post to share. Strangely, there was nothing. In early August 2016, I was chronicling my then three year old breaking the terrible news that Postman Pat was dead. Greendale is still in mourning, but at least the post gets delivered now. Every cloud and all that.

The logical conclusion was that I had chickened out. I got away with a lot, mainly as almost nobody from NCT read any of it, but a cheeky blog about boobie juice could tip the blog police over the edge if discovered. Besides, my little blog had enough knockers already so it seemed senseless to add to the mound.

Not this year though, so here I go.

We have gone through breastfeeding twice. By twice, I mean with two children, not just twice. That would be silly. To say that the results were variable is an understatement.

First time round, we did the standard swotting up and attended NCT and hypnobirthing classes, which are mandatory for expectant Tettenhall parents.

By due date, we were in no doubt that “breast is best.” Which it is. Probably. We were also confident that our daughter was simply going to be breathed out without so much as a junior disprin, let alone an “epidoodle.” Our new arrival would also miraculously head straight for her breakfast, just like in Hypnobirthing video brainwash number two.

Back in the real world, after several days of failed inductions, a bodged anaesthetic and failed c-section block, much sawing (my wife felt every cut) and stitching up later, our baby was out. Drugged, but out. I did dad duties while mum was sellotaped back together, ready to do what mum had been repeatedly told that she should do best.

Recovery was a nightmare with my wife having to drag a drain bag and stand around to even get close to our child. Nobody slept. Our baby didn’t feed for days. Irrespective of that, we were discharged to work things out for ourselves.

Once home, our living room was transformed into a hybrid milking shed come Boots the Chemist. Pumps, bottles, bags, sterilisers on one side, cream, gels, nipple shields, pillows and a baby in a straitjacket (Swaddle Pod) on the other.

The feeding process took about twenty hours a day. I say feeding, as I’m guessing some of that time must have involved the transfer of milk from mum to baby. We were not helped by a tongue-tie not being picked up at hospital. This caused further distress to our little dot once snipped, whereupon she had to learn her terrible latch all over again.

The severity of my wife’s pain was making me wince in sympathy, and I started to doubt if the whole “earth mother” thing was all it was cracked up to be. Predictably, she was a semi-broken shell after a couple of weeks. In the middle of a particularly fraught night, she told our daughter exactly what she thought of her and decided that enough was enough. I somehow persuaded mum to carry on until morning. Things always seem better in daylight.

So, with breakfast done and sanity partially restored, mum and baby took the bus across town to their first Breastfeeding Group. It was the turning point.

It turned out that in this parallel universe, other mums were struggling to feed too. Who would have thunked it? Armed with proper support, a new outlet to vent frustrations, and shared tales of feeding and disaster washed down with plenty of sugary tea, mum cultivated the mental toughness of Ellen Ripley tackling those pesky Aliens with an emphatic “SCREW YOU!”

Feeding got easier when solids were introduced. Once weaning started, it became apparent what a good job the Breastapo had done on me when I pooh-poohed a suggestion of chucking unused “emergency” formula on our daughters porridge, simply to use it up. Let’s use the cow’s milk instead, eh? Idiot.

Things carried on relatively smoothly until the final bedtime feed was eventually dropped. We did it. Go us!

By the time that the boy was preparing for his grand entrance, we were lots more relaxed about the keeping little people alive thing. Ideally, the wee fella would be another loyal customer of Mum Dairies, but if he was as much of an arse as his sister was then we would rethink.

Once born, this time by less bodged emergency cesarean, I asked the midwives to check for a tongue-tie and was promptly told there wasn’t one. Tick.

Fortunately, as boys are better and cleverer than girls, he took to feeding like a duck to plum sauce. Good lad. He was, however, born with a tooth and enjoyed a good chomp (eek!) His feeding further improved when the tooth was yanked out and his tongue-tie was snipped. Yes, you read that correctly.

The average feed, sponsored by Infacol, was down from about two hours with our daughter to about ten minutes with our son. Was this the dream that we were mis-sold first time round and, if so, can we make a claim? Perhaps not, but it was relatively stress free and normal, if there is such a norm. That’ll do.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. The support that we had with our eldest was abysmal. It is little wonder that mums, already sleep deprived, hormonal and as neurotic as they’re ever likely to get in life, crumble.

I’m absolutely in favour of encouraging parents to breastfeed if they can – the benefits are clear – but better support has to be there if wanted or needed. Else, do what you can and don’t be judged for it. Breast, mixed, or formula are all fine. Get the baby fed and try not to go insane or make yourself ill doing it.

Although breastfeeding support has improved locally, there also has to be more done to manage expectations in the run up to becoming a mum or dad.

Soft focus videos of newborns climbing to latch themselves as “Titanic on Panpipes” plays in the background are all well and good, but if your newborn isn’t having any of it then you have a big problem. Some mums may be like Friesians – great – but not all. Give us some advice on how to overcome problems. Be realistic, honest and open with the rhetoric.

There was barely a night in the first six months of parenting that my wife and I were asleep at the same time. I wore about a dozen pairs of slippers out, pacing for hours trying to get our baby to sleep. With better education, we would have sought help sooner and may even have tried something different. Who knows?

William Shakespeare, or the bloke who wrote William Shakespeare’s stuff, once wrote that “No legacy is as rich as honesty.” True that.

And that finishes our story. See, I can write semi-sensibly if I put my mind to it, with barely a pun in sight. Which is probably just as well as I wouldn’t want to make a tit of myself, would I?

Fin.