Pet Sounds

In which our reluctant hero ponders the merits of housing various super furry animals. And a couple of slimy ones.

My week started with three days away from home attending a conference, which was convenient timing with the start of Easter holibobs kicking in. Faced with the prospect of being home alone, babysitting the kids, mum decided to head for the hills. To Wales. To Nana’s house.

One of my more irksome tasks when away is having to work through my backlog of admin. Not work related admin, but the time spent randomly pressing buttons to feign interest in stuff that friends, family and and an ever increasing bunch of vaguely-associateds, that seem to have collected me have on social media, have posted.

A few scrolls into Monday’s trawl, I spotted an alarming post on my wife’s Facebook feed.

“Kids have a new best friend at Nana’s #bowser”

After tutting that the correct hashtag should probably be #wowsers, being down with the kids innit, I looked closer at the attached photo. Uh-ho.

Surprisingly, it turned out that “Bowser” was, in this instance, correct. Bowser was in the photo, playing to an audience of two little people, rolling around chewing a rubber ring while proudly showing the world his bits and bobs. Yes, Bowser was a dog. No, we’re not having one. Where’s the “dislike” button, Zuckerberg? Where’s the button?

Getting a pet is like getting a cheap first car. Initially you will love and cherish it, take it out lots and give it a weekly wash and polish. However, you know that eventually it’ll start annoying you, breaking down at the most inopportune moments at great cost, and you’ll fondly reminisce that the bus wasn’t so bad after all.

If I drew up a list of things that we didn’t need, a dog would be right up there with a new (or any old) series of Mrs Brown’s Boys, or more Build-a-Bear stuff. There’s precious little time to finish pulling the year old masking tape from the utility room walls, without factoring in the zillion hours a week needed to look after a dog. A dog is for life, not just for Easter.

It turns out that meeting Bowser was a good thing for the kids, especially our four year old who lost her irrational fear of man’s allegedly best friend. Less so for our two year old boy who simply loves animals, and has no fear generally, let alone with pets. So much so that he asked the lady in the animal place that we recently visited if he could stroke the crocodile. She declined. Health and Safety gone mad.

Getting pets is supposed to be good for children as, apparently, they’ll learn to love, nurture and look after things. Knowing how well that they usually look after things, unless the pet in question is a reinforced rhino, then there’s going to be a pretty hefty vets bill.

In an attempt to deflect any further mention of dogs, I attempted to assess other potential options.

Cats
We have two already. Adding two children to the two cats simply resulted in a continual, four fold attack on me for attention and feeding. We don’t need another.

Hamster/ Mouse/ Rat/ Anything Small and Furry
The cats would eat them. Next.

Fish
I’ve never had much luck with fish. Those ones we used to get in Snappies bags at the school fete invariably ended up down the toilet. Worse still, we once dug a pond to accommodate a rescue goldfish, only for GLC (Goldie Lookin Chain) to disappear in mysterious circumstances shortly after. As did whichever of his replacements out of Freddie or Freda has also gone awol. In unrelated news, the cats like hanging around the pond. Hmmm.

Frog
There’s frogspawn a plenty in the pond, so we’re guaranteed frogs hopping out of it at some point. Then into the house to play with the cats, because the cats like playing with them. Sorted, until they croak it. But despite the cute jumping amphibians not being an issue last year, I’m slightly apprehensive after observing our eldest’s reaction to Baron Greenback’s grand entrance in the Danger Mouse show on holiday. Not fazed by the giant mouse with an eyepatch, mind.

Worms
Now this should be an easy option as they manage to survive in the lawn all by themselves. And as children, we all learned the bonafide fact that if you accidentally (ahem…) chopped one in half then you simply have two worms. Then four. Then six. Also cat proof, so a possibility.

Caterpillars
Easier than the worms, you would think, yes? After all, they eat common stuff from the average kitchen. Like chocolate cake, ice-cream cones, pickles, Swiss cheese, salami, lollipops, cherry pie, sausages, cupcakes, and watermelon. Salami, yes, but not spring greens. Well, not unless they’re organic spring greens as a friend found out while trying to raise one. Cause of death? Pesticides. The murderer.

As far as I’m aware, that’s everything covered and there are no more pets to consider. Ever. Again.

The moral of the story? Need a pet that needs minimal looking after, is as indestructible as Arnie in “The Terminator” and won’t cost an arm and a leg? Buy a wormery.

And no. We still don’t need a dog.

Fin.

The Great Ideas

In which our reluctant hero fondly recalls a long forgotten most genius* idea.

It’s April and it’s springtime. The clocks have been mucked about with again and parents across the land are even more weary and confused than our default parenting setting of pretty weary and confused. Stupid “The Hour.”

April also marks the annual debacle that is April Fools’ Day, where ordinary folk, most of whom aren’t usually known for their hilarity, try their hand at practical jokes or spreading nonsense.

The “jokes” themselves are nearly always rubbish (with the possible exception of any jape that involves setting stuff in jelly, like on The Office that time) and pretty easy to spot, especially if there’s jelly involved.

As for the hoaxes, in an age where button clickers are enthusiastically (and in some cases, naively) spreading their fake news, these are a different kettle of fish. A kettle of fish also being, ironically, a hilarious practical joke. Probably.

For this reason, I am a little more wary about the validity of stories published at around this time of year than usual. For example;

  • “BREXIT BOMBSHELL: EU to demand EVERY British number plate is RECALLED by 2019” – Fake, although surprisingly amusing stuff from Blighty’s second favourite right-wing rag, The Daily Express.
  • Any picture of a positive pregnancy test posted on social media before noon on April 1st – Fake every time. Also, not in the slightest bit funny, especially to those experiencing fertility problems.
  • “Mums are gluing pretty bows to babies’ heads so people know they’re girls” – True. No, really. Try Googling “Girlie Glue” if you don’t believe me.

Ignoring the million or so more sensible ways that mums could make their girlies more girly, like buying a flowery hat for example, it made me wonder if this curious phenomenon is unique to girls.

If my 28 seconds of extensive research is a reliable indicator, then it seems to be. But perhaps the Girlie Glue could be utilised to make baby boys more boyly too? A liberal application of sticky stuff could securely attach a false moustache, pipe, monocle and top hat in seconds. Literally a proper little man, and no more mixups.

Or maybe the glue could be used for more practical uses that parents would appreciate. Like gluing socks or gloves on to prevent their immediate loss, or sticking toddlers to their chairs at mealtimes.

Perhaps these ideas are slightly daft (dafter than the glue?) but I’ll guess that they may possibly have made a few of you go “hmmm…”

Which got me thinking. Are there any daft but practical inventions that I can think of that, if invented, could be useful additions to our parenting Arsenal? Oh, yes…

Reversible Clothing
Going out for ten minutes? Forgot to pack the three necessary sets of spare clothes? No worries. When you arrive at the park, soft play or gala dinner, simply turn everything inside out. Jobs a good ‘un.

Yes, the kids will have mud, jam, or whatever else they managed to collect caked all over the insides, but it’s bound to come off in the bath later. Coats have already been done, so why not make every garment for under fours reversible? A simple solution to an annoying problem sorted. Next.

Temporary Sock Tattoos
Sick of losing socks? Run out of glue? Why not pop to your local tattoo parlour and get a set inked on? A temporary pair, that will fade after a couple of years, will probably suffice. Just don’t go for anything too fancy like pringle patterns.

Froast
In a rush? Too tired to cook? Why not try microwavable frozen toast (“Froast”) for breakfast? Simply place a couple of slices into the special Froast cooking bag, microwave for 45 seconds per slice, allow five minutes cooling time, then turn out onto a plate and serve with butter, jam or whatever takes your fancy. Genius I’m sure you’ll agree.

And the beauty is that you can cook it in just a couple of minutes with gadgets (a freezer, microwave and plate) that you already own. No need to mess with expensive toasters and all that rubbish.

Cutlery Bungees
Fed up with your little person’s knife and fork ending up on the floor while trying to hack through Froast of a morning? Then Cutlery Bungees are the thing for you. Simply attach one end to a knife or fork and the other to your child’s wrist. Voila. The next time that pesky cutlery ends up over the side of the high chair it will soon be hurtling back from whence it came. What could possibly go wrong?

Babygro Mop
I initially considered that the concept of parents dressing their little ones in a mop, dipping them in Flash and letting them loose on the kitchen floor even more bizarre and inhumane than baby glue. Practical, granted, but probably not a kind thing to do. But, amazingly, these already exist. They’re called “Babymops” if you’re interested. Sometimes the simplest ideas have already been discovered.

So, there you go. A handful of much needed stuff and nonsense that I’m frankly amazed that we’ve got this far without inventing. And Babymops. I would also add Nappy Airbags, Balaclava Bibs and Chameleon Wall Crayons to the list if there was time, but the clock has beaten me once more.

Enjoy your weekend, whatever you’re up to. I’ll be heading off to the local patent office and enjoying a nice slice or two of Froast.

Fin.

(*) According to comedian Dave Gorman, when I first came up with the idea in 2010. Thanks Timehop!

Rules of the House

In which our reluctant hero considers setting some ground rules.

Keen to avoid an end of week meltdown when I’m home alone, babysitting the kids, for a few days and haven’t written Friday’s blog, my wife sent me a link to a Mumsnet thread to fuel my creative juices. The thread was titled “Batsh*t rules about things that don’t really matter.” Charming.

Mumsnet, eh? So this is what mums get up to all day when dads are at work. No wonder nothing ever gets done.

My first task was to try to decipher it. Who knew that mums spoke in strange code? DH, DM, PIL, DS, DD, DC? What on earth does that all mean? Confused, I referred to the Ox Dict of Abbrevos. That didn’t help either. I guessed at “Lawrence, Direct Message, Public Image Limited, Nintendo, Direct Debit and Washington” which made even less sense put in context. Undeterred, I ploughed on.

Rules are like tour guides holding up yellow brollies up on holiday. You know that they shouldn’t really be needed, but unless they are followed, there will be all manner of chaos and the bus is going back half empty.

Back to the thread. There was a fair bit of debate about domestic things, it being a forum mostly for ladies… (*ducks*)

Some of the “rules” didn’t seem that ridiculous to me, just common sense. And simply doing something properly isn’t a rule, is it? For example, the order of washing things up. Starting with glasses and cutlery, then washing things in order of dirtiness, ending with pans is just a logical way of only using one bowl of water isn’t it? Not a rule.

Brown and red sauce featured heavily. Brown sauce for a sausage sandwich, red for bacon. Or vice versa. (Wrong!) Red for chips but not chippy chips as they have to be eaten without. The chips themselves should, apparently, be eaten first and dipped into ketchup. This is partially correct in that you should always eat the best bit last (which, let’s face it, is never the chips) but ketchup should always be squirted all over everything to save faffing. Again, common sense and definitely not a rule.

I used to work with a bloke who would drink coffee up to 11:59 a.m. before switching to tea at noon. Playing devil’s advocate, I once started making a round of drinks at about ten to twelve (coffee requested) but didn’t deliver until noon just to see what happened. It got poured down the sink.

There’s loads of these, from not putting new shoes on the table, to instructions about hanging washing up, and everything in between. Having ploughed through about ten pages, I was unsure as to whether human behaviour is such that we are all somehow hardwired to create and maintain routines, or whether we are just habitual. And is there even a difference?

Although I don’t have prescriptive rules like you lot – I think we’ve all rightly established that common sense is my primary driver, and that I’m nearly always right – I am a quite habitual creature. I started to wonder if any of my quirks have rubbed off.

Occasionally I spot the little people popping crisps into a sandwich, and they’ve started asking for bread and butter to do the same if we have chips.

When dressing, we all usually put our socks on last. I do this as I haven’t dried my feet properly after my shower and am stalling until the carpet finishes the job for me. The kids probably do as that’s a routine that they’ve inherited. They also both want to rinse their mouth out after cleaning teeth as that’s something that I do, despite disapproving glances from the better half.

Now that they’re both quite good at talking, I’ve noticed phrases being copied and recycled. The little one frequently says “Yes, of course you can” if you ask him for something, which makes me chuckle as it sounds odd coming from a two year old. Our eldest frequently yells at her younger brother, demanding that he does something or other that he hasn’t done. She also makes inappropriately loud comments such as “Do they think that the rules don’t apply to them?” at people parked on the zigzags outside nursery too. I have no idea where that comes from although I could hazard a guess.

But they also at times seem to come up with their own routines without warning. These have, over the years, included toast having to be served in a toast rack, ice cream from the “bird cup”, things removed from the bedroom before sleep, slippers or shoes being placed in bed before sleep, bringing a doll or teddy down for breakfast, and having a biscuit and banana before bed, to name just a few. Some have dropped off over time, but some have stuck. I don’t know whether these rituals were started independently, or influenced from elsewhere. Most likely Peppa Pig. Either way, our weekly spend on bananas is outrageous.

It took a while to think of them, but we only have three proper rules at home.

  • We don’t smack, we cuddle in this house.
  • We always at least try to do a wee before leaving the house or going to bed.
  • No treats if you haven’t eaten dinner.

On the whole, they’re pretty well adhered to, although mummy sometimes struggles with the last one.

At two and four, our children are absolute sponges which is why it’s so important to at least try to set a good example. Behaviours influence behaviours. Now if I could only get them all copying something more useful. Like grouting, putting the bins out or doing the ironing. One day…

  

Fin.

Let’s Go Fly A Kite

A few weeks ago, we went on a short holiday. Or a long weekend, if you prefer. Holidays used to involve exciting things such as planes, trains and automobiles, meals out, sunsets and lie ins, often in warmer climes. Now they mostly involve collecting vouchers from the newspaper, traffic jams, caravans, sleep deprivation and six-foot tall dancing fluffy rabbits. Which is all fine of course. Except maybe the rabbits.

On our way back home, we stopped off to say goodbye to the sea and partake in one last go of our newly found most fun thing to do on holidays ever. Flying a kite.

On the last two Father’s Days, we have visited the National Trust property at Dudmaston where we made kites at the Family Fun Day. Little cellophane sails held aloft by garden canes stuck down with badly applied sellotape. String with coloured ribbon for tails and thin cotton line that looks like it will snap if blown too hard, let alone launched on a windy day. Having made them, one kite sat behind a picture gathering dust for a year or more and the other on top of a bookshelf in the kitchen. Where better?

We finally got them packed and onto the beach during day two of holidays. Would they fly? No, not at first, but after a little untying and re-sticking we were off! The first kite managed to float pretty well if we caught the wind correctly. The second adopted more a high-speed kamikaze flight path, darting in crazy circles up and down until smashing into the sand below.

Little legs spent much time running up and down the empty beach trying to catch enough breeze for another lift off. Larger legs spent much time tangled up in line as the up and down went more round and round. Eventually, kids worn out, we headed for lunch after a lovely morning whereupon I invested a whacking five English pounds (currently worth about two US dollars) on a proper kite from the cafe.

On the final day, I took this picture on the beach at Talacre.

Flying a Kite

Flying a Kite

I was rather pleased with my photo which should one day end up in the children’s albums if we ever get round to printing anything out ever again. Ahem. (See also this old post.)

It is funny how a photo can evoke different mental imagery depending on who looks at it and when.

In years to come, the children may look at the photo (yes, yes… it will be printed by then) and summon planted memories of a long forgotten, almost idyllic, holiday. Quiet beaches, stormy skies, a coat at least a size too small that should have gone in the hand-me-downs bag, and flying a kite. Which will be nice.

Friends (asides from those on my Facebook “Stalkers” list) and family will get their sanitised highlights through social media and may recall happy times on holidays of their own.

And Mum and Dad, being the only ones who were on the beach at the time, will recall something quite different. Over to Sue Barker to find out why in our “What Happens Next” round.

Within a second of the shutter clicking the kite was released, on purpose, for the second time in a matter of minutes. The first time we managed to jump on the line and quickly stop it. A bit of winding in, a quick chat about the need to hold on tightly and no harm done.

The second time coincided with a gust of wind that propelled the kite at high-speed down the beach towards the lighthouse.

Moments later, a quick thinking mummy (having checked suitability of footwear – old trainers, so fine) pegged it in hot pursuit. Off the kite flew, faster and faster, first over the sand, then the wet bit, then the stony bit, then the sinky bit which were all carefully negotiated in a desperate attempt to catch it.

I had two soundtracks to this rather bizarre scene running through my head. Having decided that it was more Benny Hill theme than Chariots of Fire, the rest of us gave chase too.

Eventually, the kite came to a halt in mud at the water’s edge near the lighthouse. Mummy pounced on it and collected her gold medal. The telling off that followed was interesting in that yes, it was definitely necessary, but the minutes preceding had been so amusing that it was difficult to keep straight faces.

This is an ongoing problem in parenting. If something is a bit naughty, but also funny, should we say anything? Like the time when our eldest, then a two year old, shouted “K***HEAD!” at a driver that overtook us like an idiot. She was right of course but, slightly surprised, the only response I could find was “Have you been in the car with mummy?”

Anyway, having cleaned the mud off the kite, stopped the tears and packed everything up, we headed back to the car and home via the ice cream factory. You can’t go to the beach without having an ice cream after all, even if the ice cream ends up being purchased 35 miles away.

Picture This

In which our hero unexpectedly ponders whether nostalgia will ever be as good as it used to be. Or something.

As a single man, my living room had a floor with a carpet. As a married man, our living room had a wooden floor with a rug. As a married man and a Dad, we have the same wooden floor and rug, only buried somewhere beneath the stage that the daily bookshelf and toy cupboard Jenga game is played out on. Stuff, piled as high as my head, ready to topple should any integral component be pulled too soon. And it always does, especially if I’m anywhere in the vicinity. 

Clearing up the debris of one such collapse I discovered, peeking through a scattering of Peppa Pig jigsaw pieces and Duplo blocks, a mysterious red book. With two dogs on the front. 

It was an album. An album of images and forgotten memories. Memories captured then printed out at Boots the Chemist or lovingly cut from the local newspaper. Memories preserved beneath the sticky yellowing cellophane sheets that have served to protect them since the seventies. My childhood photo album no less. Blimey. An antique.

After a few minutes flicking and reminiscing, I closed the book, placed it back on the shelf, and booted the other junk behind the curtains. Tidy.

Then something dawned on me. There it was. My childhood, captured in a single volume held in my hand. A couple of dozen pages, with fewer stills than the average modern parent posts of Pop Tarts being shovelled into their jam-smeared toddler’s mouths by Thursday each week.

Technology in the olden days. Shove a miserly 24 or 36 exposure film into the camera at the start of the summer holidays, chuck in the suitcase and off you go. Three years later, the camera would resurface. Cue the well-drilled ritual of snapping flowers, feet, the lawn or some nearby ducks just to use up the film. Nip it down to the chemists, then wait a week for the “Photo Lottery” results to be drawn.

‘What have we got?”

Well, nineteen blurry shots of the Kagool clad family in grotty British seaside towns, heads predictably decapitated thanks to the erratic pocket Kodak viewfinder. Some perfectly exposed snaps of this season’s Clarks Commandos. And a mallard as the bonus ball.

The olden days. Much the same as when my one year old or my wife gets their hands on the camera today then. Ahem. Fast forwarding the Betamax to the present, a time with digital “the wireless” and colour internets….

Waking up. SNAP SNAP. Getting dressed. SNAP, SNAP. Breakfasting. SNAP, SNAP, CRACKLE and POP. Bath time. Erm, best not. 

As Dad, I am (rightly) put in charge of the family’s technology. Primarily the remote control, but sometimes the camera. SNAP, SNAP. There you go. Lovely.

Being in charge of the camera means that I don’t feature in any snaps, which is good and bad for the same reason. But if, one day, my fate is sealed when I accidentally step into the road only to be ploughed down by a steamroller parade, migrating wildebeest, and a Norwegian marching band, will my children remember what I looked like in years to come? A bit flat I would think.

“There’s got to be a picture of your Dad somewhere. Pass me the old album. See. Beaumaris beach. 1977. He didn’t change a bit.”

Looking back at my own holiday snaps, I fondly recall (the Director’s Cut of) happy family times. Ice-creams and dodgem cars. Sandcastles and chips on the seafront. It’s almost as if the sand in the face, tantrums, sunburn, more tantrums and the never to be mentioned again near-death pool incident didn’t happen. Marvellous.

Almost everything is recorded in one form or another these days. Never before has a generation that has achieved so little documented it in such meticulous detail. And we’re all guilty. Well, not me so much. But you lot all are, definitely.

The technology allows us to upload, download, and share without a care. And it’s great. Or is it? Really?

When this year’s toddler crop Bloom into their teens, the more socially aware may feel a strange paranoia that they have been the star of a 21st Century Truman Show reboot all along. First steps, learning to talk or learning to read, shoplifting their first “pick and mix” bag from Woolworths. If we as parents are not careful, every key life moment or mistake made will be out there somewhere. For all eternity. For all to see.

Or will the opposite be true? With their past, current, and future existences so immediate and disposable, will this generation even have a single album with a couple of dozen pages of pictures to look back on when they are parents themselves?  And will our little one’s childhoods simply sail slowly away into cyberspace, never to be discovered again?