Question Time

In which our reluctant hero gets his excuses in early.

Last minute Christmas shopping. Last minute food shopping. Pub. Wrapping. Re-wrapping. Writing labels. Building a flat pack ice cream shop. Dismantling and re-mantling a flat pack ice cream shop after realising that the sides were on the wrong way. Lugging presents downstairs for Father Christmas. Peeling veg on Christmas Eve. Up before the “Sun’s up up in my room, Daddy!” every morning. Overexcited little people. Opening presents. Trying to work out who sent the previously opened presents. Tidying up the mess. Boiling sprouts to within an inch of their existence. Basting the turkey. Serving Christmas dinner. Serving Christmas dinner to the cats. Pulling crackers at every meal or snack time. Rediscovering the terrible joke in our homemade cracker. Setting fire to the pudding. Putting out hat that was a bit too close to the pudding. Washing up. Eating a wheelbarrow’s worth of Celebrations by coffee time. Bedtime meltdowns. Bedtime meltdowns by the kids too. Tidying up the mess. Again. Trip to the tip. Almost chucking the youngest’s buggy in the skips (oops.) Etc.

Christmas. Marvellous isn’t it?

I’ll forgive you for mistaking the above for a thirty second Groundhog Day-esque summary of Christmas Eve to Boxing Day. Close. It is in fact a rather hastily list of excuses as to why I haven’t written, or even thought about writing, a proper post this week. Which is odd as the Christmas period is often seen as a time for quiet thought and contemplation. Its Christmas. With kids. Fat chance.

Although not contemplated quietly, some deep, interesting, and theological (probably) questions did occasionally pop into my head over the period. A fleeting in and out, like Santa on a speed date. Questions such as (in no particular order);

  • Why are over fifty screws, nuts and bolts needed to build a child’s ice cream shop?
  • Where have I put the allen key this time?
  • When is “Escape to Victory” on?
  • How do you store Lego and Duplo in between builds?
  • How did two grown-ups end up spending all afternoon building the Lego?
  • Why do sprouts taste as bitter as a pint of bitter lemon on a chilly night on Christmas Day, but amazing when fried up as breakfast bubble ‘n’ squeak on Boxing Day?
  • Can our recycling pile be seen from space by a naked eye?
  • Working on the basis that everybody who wants to/has to watch Frozen has seen it more than five hundred times already, couldn’t the BBC have given us parents JUST ONE DAY OFF?!
  • Where did all of the salted peanuts go?
  • How do you make the Rapunzel Doll stop singing? In Spanish?
  • What on earth is a Shopkin?
  • Is the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special a new one?
  • What on earth have the boffins at Cadbury done to the Roses wrappers?
  • Why is “Mrs Brown’s Boys” still allowed on the electric television? (Presumably Brendan O’Carroll knows where the bodies are buried.)
  • How do you make the Frozen Doll stop singing? In Spanish?
  • Next year, will it be easier to arrange for my December wages to be paid directly into Amazon’s bank account?
  • Why are the children upstairs playing hospitals when there’s about half of Amazon’s UK stock sat in the living room?
  • Why wasn’t “Escape to Victory” on?
  • Is “re-mantling” even a word?

So there you go. Will I ever get answers to these questions? Probably not. Will I be asking exactly the same things next year. Probably. Ho, ho, ho.

Fin.

Christmas Traditions 

In which our reluctant hero ponders traditions, which is quite normal for this time of year.

Where do mysteries come from? Nobody knows. The same may be said about traditions. Well in my world anyway.

tradition
trəˈdɪʃ(ə)n/
noun
a long-established custom or belief that has been passed on from one generation to another.

Or something.

Each year since starting a family, I have pondered laying down some Christmas traditions of my own. And each year, I quickly give up. This is (I think) largely because I can’t think of anything sensible to adopt, be it routine, food, dress choices, or pretty much anything else associated with the big day.

Cracking open the Champagne first thing on Christmas morning seems to be, rather ironically, a very British tradition these days. As is serving eggs benedict or smoked salmon for breakfast, usually with said bubbles. Faff and drunkenness by eight a.m. doesn’t really seem the best way to prepare for a twelve hours plus marathon of overexcited children and general chaos to me. Scrub that.

Roast turkey is a traditional Christmas lunch despite nobody really liking it and secretly wishing that they could ditch the bird and just have a mountain of pigs in blankets instead.

We had beef last year and lamb the year before. Hardly a model of consistency. This year will probably be the Bernard Matthews Turkey Roast (if I can get away with it – I won’t) or whatever is on offer in Aldi, provided that it’s not goose.

Have you ever cooked a goose by the way? It’s pretty much a four hour exercise in preventing the oven and house catching fire, with about the same meat as in a couple of Turkey Twizzlers left at the end.

Perhaps adopting something ridiculous is the answer. Having recently learned that Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii, or “Kentucky for Christmas” is an actual thing in Japan, a KFC Bargain Bucket may be the rather greasy future. Plus there’s the added bonus of no washing up to do, asides from the sprout pan.

As it’s a special day, should I wear a suit or go for the more practical option of pyjamas all day? The latter seems far more appealing, although driving to church in slippers is asking for trouble. Alternatively, we could all rollerskate there like the residents of Caracas do every Christmas morning. Yes, really. I also suspect that the first verse of Once In Royal David’s City would be drowned out by a chorus of tuts from the congregation.

What about other things? Should we leave “sleigh tracks” down the lawn, or should I dress as Santa? The Boxing Day swim is another tradition that many folk partake in, but with Wolverhampton being about as far away from the sea as anywhere in Britain that limits options to stripping off and diving into the inch of water left in Tettenhall Pool. No thank you.

Despite the obvious lack of activities to adopt as a new tradition, the other thing that makes me throw in the proverbial towel (straight into the washing machine – there’s bound to be another load due since I started writing this) is the lack of time. Time. There was never enough pre-children, but post? Forget it.

We did a homemade variation of the Elf thing this year (his eyes didn’t start off that wonky by the way) with the difference being there was less random naughtiness and more doing stuff. Will that become a tradition? Maybe. It has certainly been good for the craft pile and the children have loved it. But it has taken a lot of time and effort, mostly by mum, especially on nursery and playgroup days.

Time.

By the time the we’ve got up on Christmas Eve, bought the stuff for Christmas lunch, dropped the food parcel off for the homeless people, met our friends (who turn up from the West Midlands and beyond) at midday at our old local for lunch, got back, put out the carrots, mince pie and sherry for Rudolph and Father Christmas, scattered the reindeer food about, walked to the end of the street to scan the horizon for passing sleighs (it coincidentally covers the flightpath for Birmingham Airport), got our pyjamas on and watched a Christmas film, there’s just no time for Christmas traditions.

Oh.

A load of things that we do, that I don’t really remember starting but we do every year nonetheless.

So, the moral of the traditions story? Less over thinking and more doing and it’ll all sort itself out in a couple of years time. A bit like parenting.

Fin.

Eat Your Words

In which our reluctant hero spells it out. Or something.

Reading is back in the news. No, not the birth town of cheeky, chubby japesters, Mr Tumble and Ricky Gervais, and (more impressively) the Little Chef. The other one. You know. The one where you join up letters and words and stuff and try to make sense of it. Like you’re trying to do now. Good luck with that.

If social media is any barometer, mums have gotten all hot under the collar about reading for starters, with the news that actor, heartthrob, dad and all round nice guy, Tom Hardy (whoever he is) will be reading the CBeebies Bedtime Story on New Year’s Eve. Blimey.

“Sit down, it’s starting.”
“But Mum! This is a baby programme! I’m nine!”
“Will you be quiet for five minutes? I’m trying to watch!”

With this much excitement brewing over five minutes of action at bedtime, Lord knows what the reaction will be when news finally gets out that Ross Poldark is replacing Gem as guest presenter on the Swashbuckle Christmas Special. ARRR!

Bringing in a Hollywood ringer hardly seems fair to the average dad like me. Our two only get to listen to my weary mumblings at bedtime (on the few occasions where they don’t like Mum best) rather than the elegant diction of a trained thespian. Poor dad.

It’s the same with the gardening. It doesn’t matter how many miles you tot up, plodding up and down with the mower, you feeling that everyone else thinks that it would all have been done that much better by Mr Bloom.

Parking the mower for a moment and wheelbarrowing back up the garden in a desperate attempt to get this post back on track, earlier in the week, I was drawn to this quite bizarre headline. On the BBC website of all places.

POTATO LETTERS RUIN DINNER FOR MUM AND HER COMPLAINT GOES VIRAL.

Brilliant.

My first thought was why on earth would a grown woman think that the introduction of potato letters to a plate of food wouldn’t ruin it?

I’ve watched a couple of Masterchef’s this week, and at no point have I seen Marcus Wareing conclude that the potato foam was OK, but adding a couple of Tesco Crispy Potato Letters would really have brought the consommé to life. Maybe the professional chefs are missing a trick?

Having stopped guessing and read the article (do, it’ll make you feel so much better about your own parenting skills) it turns out that a mum purchased a bag of oven ready potato letters which didn’t contain all of the letters required for her to teach her son, Logan (4), to read his name. So she complained.

“It is misleading, why would you sell them as alpha-bites, really they should just be called ‘certain letter bites’.

“In the end I improvised by using an ‘I’ as an ‘L’ and a ‘C’ as an ‘O’ so spelled ‘icgan’ which obviously isn’t his name.

“He noticed this straight away and I had to explain why. Very disappointed.”

I swear that I’m not making this up. But here’s the best bit.

“If you buy them you expect all the letters to be there, that’s why I emptied them all out. Apparently it does say on the packet that not all of the letters are in there, but again I don’t see the point in that.”

And she still complained. Genius.

So, where do I start with this?

First of all, having tipped the frozen letters out and realised that a few were missing, why not pick another word? There’s half a kilo of letters to pick from and loads of words in the dictionary. It’s hardly the Countdown conundrum.

Had all letters been available and subsequently scoffed, what would mum have done next mealtime? Demand that Tesco stock them individually? (See above for alternative options.)

If her son can’t read anyway, why not wing it and make something up like the rest of us? (“Yes, ‘kpqde’ spells ‘Logan.’ Clever boy!”) Or use the 15-17 minutes that they were cooking to sit down and teach him with letter blocks or good old fashioned pencils and paper?

And what about children with names with recurring letters? What about their feelings? You didn’t think about the children at all, did you Tesco? Thought not.

And did I complain to Heinz when my two year old could only express Pi to 286 decimal places because the tin of Numberetti Spaghetti ran out of number threes? No, I didn’t. Actually, that gives me an idea…

I could go on.

At a push, some credit could maybe go to the mum for trying to use mealtime as learning time and coming up with something to hopefully make the process slightly less torturous. We’ve all been there.

So, click bait or genuine cause for complaint? I think we can probably guess the answer.

Andy Warhol once said “In the future, everyone will be world- famous for 15 minutes” and it looks like this mum just got hers. Which is, coincidentally, about the same time needed to cook some more frozen potato letters.

Fin.

Every Loser Wins

In which our reluctant hero assesses the competition.

The more perceptive of you may have noticed a picture of a glittery bauble above and assumed that this is another post about Christmas. You would be quite wrong. It isn’t. Well, maybe just a little.

The bauble was decorated by our four year old for her school nursery’s bauble decorating competition. It is an eclectic mix of glitter, more glitter, shiny things, glittery things, a couple of stickers and a feather for good measure, stuck down with a gallon of PVA glue. Over the course of several sittings, the layers slowly built up until, finally, it was ready for entry into the competition. The time and effort put in was incredible. Best of all, she did it all by herself. All of it.

The temptation to help, be it design tips, submitting draft plans, or simply pointing out the bits missing glue and glitter was torturous. It always is. We could have decorated our own baubles of course but where would the fun be in that? It’s better to sit in the back seat squawking out directions or shouting “ARE WE NEARLY THERE YET?” than actually driving after all.

Will the bauble win a prize? Who knows. Does it matter? Probably not. Or does it?

We all like to succeed, it’s human nature. Doing something well makes you like doing it just that bit more than doing something that you’re a bit rubbish at. Add winning a prize into the mix and bingo. A passion for life. Maybe.

If the task is too easy or too difficult though, you may lose interest. However, if there’s sufficient challenge and things are still achievable then that’s probably about right. Like playing those machines at the amusement arcade where you get to feel a fluffy toy with a grabber three times for a quid. It’s tricky, but with persistence, dedication and about fifty quid in change, you know that you’ll win in the end.

But is competition really the answer, especially when little people are involved?

Like with most things in life, there are pros and cons. Positives could perhaps include increased self-esteem, learning how to win or lose gracefully, understanding the importance of team participation, trying new things, making new friends, learning to set achievable goals, to name but a few. On the flip side, confidence could take a knock or interest in taking part could be lost, causing withdrawal or even stress. Blimey.

Most of the negatives are unthinkable as a parent, especially the stress element. But there has to be a balance somewhere. Life isn’t about winning all of the time, but it can’t be about losing all of the time either. Either extreme is unhealthy, be it for children or adults.

Another consideration in this is our natural competitiveness. As an example, our daughter became interested in board games at about two years old. Once the basic concept of a given game was grasped, we would start to play, but it wouldn’t be long before she start cheating. If rumbled, it was full on waterworks in seconds and she no longer wanted to play. It’s genuinely puzzling as to where this behaviour came from at such a young age, although I distinctly remember her uncle displaying similar traits as a youngster. *Coughs*

Now at a similar age, our youngest occasionally wants to win too, especially in the ‘jama race. He is also prone to the odd bit of cheating too, a recent favourite being “I saw the sea first!!” while driving through Spaghetti Junction on the way to holidays. That’s not the sea, it’s Star City.

The compromise (according to the internet which is never ever wrong) appears to be “healthy competition,” whatever that is.

Having popped my thinking boots on, I’ve interpreted this as probably meaning working out what you motivates you, what you’re trying to achieve, being sensible and, importantly, making sure that you enjoy whatever it is that you’re doing.

So, if you love skiing and it turns out that you’re good at it, great. Ski as fast as you can and try to compete against other skiers if that’s your want. If you love skiing but keep coming last, maybe stop worrying about everybody else. Ski against yourself or the clock instead. Set sensible goals, try to improve, take pleasure from your achievements, do the best you can and enjoy it. And if that doesn’t work, forget the slopes, head for the jumps and bang in an application to enter the Winter Olympics instead, like this fella did.

And there’s maybe a lesson for us all in there somewhere. You may not be the best, but keep persevering and smiling and you can achieve things. Probably the best thing that we can do as parents is to encourage and support our children, rather than set the bar too high and knock them down.

Getting back to the bauble. Our daughter understands that she’s entering a competition, but I get the impression that it won’t be the end of the world if she doesn’t win. She put a load of thought and effort in, did the very best she could all by herself, and enjoyed it without any pressure. And I’m happy with that.

Hopefully the teachers will spot any baubles where a ringer has been drafted in to help come judgment day. If they don’t, rest assured that my paint brushes and tube of UHU are coming out next time. Not that I’m competitive or anything.

Fin.

Oh, Christmas Tree

In which our reluctant hero gets the decorators in.

“Holidays are coming…”
It’s not holidays, it’s blooming November!

Facebook – 28th November 2016

In the olden days, December 1st was a day like any other. Granted, it would probably be so cold in the house that you would bathe and sleep with your flat cap and long johns on. You may even have been considering chucking a second lump of coal on the fire if you were feeling particularly flush. But pretty much everything else in life remained the same.

Fast-forward to 21st century Blighty. December 1st. The latest date that you can hope to get to before tackling the mountain of plastic rubbish that used to be your attic floor to find the Christmas tree and decorations becomes a thing. Search and rescue. It’s a challenge, but your reward for success is that the earache may stop. For a bit. If you’re lucky.

So after safely depositing the little people at nursery and playgroup, my first December morning was spent knee deep in plastic getting things ready for them to “help” with the decorating after lunch.

If it were up to me the tree would be up on Christmas Eve and back in the attic on Boxing Day. December 1st seems just too early. There’s almost seven per cent of the year to get through before Christmas after all. But at least I’ve got an excuse. Children. The rest of you should be ashamed of yourselves.

The compression of the seasons means that everything gets that little bit earlier each year. Christmas cards in the shops by the end of September. Mince pies in the Co-op in October – which, ironically, means that they will have gone off by actual Christmas. I wandered through two light switch-ons in November. We’ve already done Christmas crafts at nursery. Badgers are bouncing on trampolines during every commercial break. The aroma of sprouts permeates the air as folk ensure that they’re cooked in time. Nick Jnr are showing Ben and Holly specials on repeat. We’ve sent letters and seen the “real” Father Christmas. In Wolverhampton of all places. No wonder the kids are confused. I too am wondering if it’s now socially acceptable to quaff a glass of sherry with my Weetabix of a morning. I suspect that it’s only a matter of time.

Back to the tree…

We are a helper down this year as mum has conveniently arranged a spa day with friends. Off sipping Prosecco while I slip on tinsel and shred my legs kneeling on shattered baubles. Which reminds me that I need to add a new pair of trousers to my list for Father Christmas.

I didn’t anticipate that the absence of helper three would be a hindrance, as the “help” normally involves sitting on the sofa with a cup of coffee telling me that I have put everything in the wrong place. The children and cats may prove more problematic.

Doing the decorations is like demolishing blocks of flats. You know it’s going to be considerably quicker to take them down than put them up, and the only certainty is that there’s going to be debris everywhere for weeks. If we had a bigger house, I would put the tree away fully decorated come twelfth night and save myself all of the faff the following year.

Things started badly. Eric the Elf (don’t ask) had left Christmas jumpers for the children to change into after their mornings out. This caused a diplomatic incident, and about half an hour of tears, as our eldest took umbrage over her jumper not having a snowman on but a well known festive phrase instead. Ho, ho, ho…

Having eventually calmed things back down, we made a start on the decorating at the youngest’s nap time whereupon we quickly encountered problem two. The base of the tree had cracked and needed gluing. While it dried, we got on with setting up Gran’s knitted nativity scene and decorating the dining room, which were sort of done, then very quickly undone, shortly after the end of the nap.

Leaving the mess behind, we started on the main tree. The children were actually brilliant at this. Having emptied two suitcases worth of tinsel, lights, baubles and so on across the entire living room, they managed to hang at least one item off every branch. EVERY branch. The tree seemed to groan under the weight and I was a little concerned that the glue may not hold out. It looked fabulous though.

Tree done, and now bored, they headed to trash their bedrooms instead, leaving me to get downstairs finished and cleaned up. A cat appeared. Recalling the wrapping incident of a few years back, the cat was very quickly made to disappear again.

A couple of hours later and I was done. Or it was done. Or something. Tidy for Christmas. Yes, we’ll be reattaching baubles for the next month, the tree will almost certainly be felled at some point, Mary and Joseph will disappear and reappear somewhere upstairs on a daily basis, and if the lights don’t fuse at some point due to the constant switching on and off it’ll be a miracle. But that’s all part of the fun. Probably. Tidy-ish for Christmas.

To wrap things up, so to speak, mum had a most splendid idea to do with the children during Advent.

Having finished breakfast each day, they open the door on their calendars to find a little chocolate treat as usual. But this year they get to open the kitchen cupboard doors and pick an item to donate to the local food bank too.

Although it is absolutely scandalous that we need to do this in Britain in 2016, it’s good for the little people to learn that Christmas is not all about trees, presents, Rudolph and eating chocolate for breakfast, but a time for giving too. A small gesture that could make a difference.

And that’s it for another week. Now where did I put the Mint Matchmakers?

Fin.

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