Y Viva Espana

In which our reluctant hero scrapes off the factor fifty and is absolutely delighted at being home from holidays. Or something.

“Why do holidays have to end, Dad?”

This is a very good question which, after fifty-one hours back in the drizzle and freezing dirge of a grey and miserable Blighty, I’m finding myself ponder, and struggle to answer, more and more. Perhaps it’s simply because I love Wolverhampton in the springtime? Yeah, that. Probably.

I guess that the obvious answer to satisfy a small child is that it’s nice to have something to look forward to. Simples, yes?

More complicated answers could include;

  • Almost certain bankruptcy if we stay away anywhere for more than a couple of months. Even at the local Travel Tavern.
  • The cats will be really cross if someone doesn’t put another tin of meat derivative flavoured chunks in jelly in their bowls soon.
  • Spain will declare a national emergency due to shortages of Don Simon Vino Tinto and Churros if we had stayed much longer.

Me expanding by similar proportions to those that the cats will shrink by is one thing. Not desirable, but meh. Who cares? But, sadly, it turns out that there’s no magic money tree in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean either, unless it is cunningly disguised as a large pineapple and we missed it. So, with grumpy-face selfies and a landfill site’s worth of washing, back we came. Down with this sort of thing.

In some ways, being a grown-up is great. You don’t need to buy any new music for starters. (I’m listening to Baader Meinhof while typing this on a train. Niche, maybe, but new enough, eh pop-pickers?) You also get to be passively aggressively rude to eedjits at work, and eat leftover Lamb Madras for breakfast if you like, just because you can.

In other ways it’s rubbish. Jobs, houses, money. Middle age. Bits of your torso starting to drop off and an unhealthy desire to start ironing bed linen. This is all adult nonsense that the kids, thankfully, don’t need to worry about. They don’t know that they’re born.

Don’t get me wrong – I have no desire to relive childhood, or even my teen years for that matter, again. Which is just as well as it’s unlikely to happen unless I catch a quite nasty dose of the Benjamin Buttons, a disease that has less to do with chocolate rabbits than you would expect. Or is that Jargon Aphasia? I always get those two Myxomatosised up.

Home again and, after two days back at work, I’m ready for another holiday.

But we have nothing booked, so there’s nothing currently in the “things to look forward to” jar. We’re also stuck with having to do summer holidays during those pesky school holidays for the first time. This means forking out as much for a weekend in Center Parcs or Pontins as you would need to buy a small family hatchback, as all parents know.

It’s back to work again then. Another lifetime spent chained to a chipboard desk wrestling with a heavy pen. Working for the man, or the “Ma’am” in my case. Forever. Possibly longer. Again.

Or is it?

Fortunately, I have a plan. I returned home with about eighteen euros worth of the funny foreign money hidden in my underpants. By my reckoning that’ll be worth about ten million quid in a couple of years time. After which it will be time to superglue a sombrero to my head and invest in shares in Ambre Solaire.

Will it work? Of course it will.

Every dog must have his lucky day, that’s why I’ve learnt the way to shout “¡Olé!”

Fin.

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The Big-ish Freeze

In which our reluctant hero heroically attempts to survive the big chill.

Poor old Blighty never seems properly prepared for anything, least of all the weather.

We’re usually surprised to be semi-flooded at this time of year, forgetting that February signals the start of the serious consideration as to whether “ark building” would be a good new hobby.

Normality resumes when the dove returns in April, followed by the inevitable hosepipe ban when we bizarrely run out of water after two days of July sunshine.

It snowed for the first time in years last December causing the inevitable chaos and a whiteout on social media as Olafs started popping up everywhere. It wasn’t even particularly bad snow, but did we cope? Nah.

Lessons learned and all that, we should have been better prepared when The Guardian’s live snow blog officially kicked off silly season after the first few flakes of the current white stuff fell. But no.

The rail operators were the first to be caught with their thermal pants down, cancelling services all over the place just in case it snowed. It didn’t for a few days either causing an unexpected grumpy front to head in from the southeast. If only somebody had thought to check Facebook. Or look out of a window as a last resort if the Internet was down.

When the snow finally appeared, it was cars suffering next as the roads became slippier than Boris Johnson on a buttered ice rink. Drivers were advised not to travel unless absolutely necessary. With the trains now properly derailed, the only options for many were to work at home or attempt to get to work by icicle.

The West Midlands thankfully got away with a light dusting, but it has been absolutely chuffing freezing. So it was on with my extra jumper, fleece, duffel coat, hat, scarf, emergency second hat and big headphones (cool music equals warm ears) in an attempt to reach the bus stop without becoming snowmanified. Which should be a word if it isn’t.

This theoretically cunning plan would have worked so much better had I, just like everyone else, not worn my usual thin work trousers, shoes and summer socks on my bottom half. I bet Long John Silver had warmer legs than me.

If a bus bothers to arrive, there’s the problem of removing the top fourteen layers of clothing to prevent baking, before reversing the process to catch the train.

Many of Wolverhampton’s schools were closed despite barely enough snow to make a snowball, let alone a snowman this morning, although it did worsen later. I’ll give them that one.

When I was little, snow days were often caused by the school heating temporarily packing up. Not wanting to feel left out, our boiler decided that it too would randomly lose pressure and stop heating our water and radiators, starting with my wife’s morning bath. Ice one.

Surprisingly, we were also caught out before the cold snap started. The last thing that you think of when heading on a seaside holiday is to pack hats, scarves and gloves. Which is exactly what we didn’t do a week ago when we headed to Minehead.

This wouldn’t have been an issue except that Butlins’ more exciting rides were located outside.

Perhaps packing a leather flying hat and goggles would have been more sensible for the outdoor “aeroplane” ride. On we got and accelerated straight into a minus fifteen degree breeze. Ouch. At least we thought to wear lace up shoes and not slip-ons like one mum who’s shoe propelled itself halfway to the beach.

Thankfully it shouldn’t last long with a tropical four degrees forecast for Sunday. If the sun and snow are out, someone somewhere will be bound to forget to plan for that too. Sunburn in March you say? It’s snow joke.

Fin.

Frozen

In which our reluctant hero became the first person to actually want to build a snowman. EVER. Probably.

We had quite a lot of snow in Wolverhampton last weekend.

In the olden days, when “weather” existed instead of the constant churn of nothing, nothing, then absolute disaster, snow was a regular thing. Proper seventies snow too rather than the modern, dumbed down, Millennial stuff. Us, the children of the seventies, knew the drill.

  • Fifteen layers on at all times, even in the house, to negate problems of ice on the radiators.
  • Schools shutting each lunchtime (due to ice on the radiators) then a four mile uphill trek through a blizzard to get home, only to do the same again the next day.
  • Sledging on trays, coal sacks or bin bags off the greens at the local golf course.
  • Hastily denying sledging off the greens at the local golf course.
  • Quickly remembering that Parkas are to snow what Bounty (the strongest soaker upper… Boun-tee!) is to mysterious puddles on a kitchen floor.

At five and three, our children have barely seen snow and certainly didn’t remember doing so when it arrived. So, with Ice Krispies and Frosties finished, we ventured outside.

The first thing to do in the snow is, unsurprisingly, to build a snowman. In reality, it was the second thing to do, the first being throwing snowballs at dad’s ever increasing backside.

We started the build with shovels and dustpans before going old school by rolling a massive ball. The freshly rolled head, a virtual planetoid with its own weather system, caused a minor collapse that required much filling and patting down, but it started taking shape. I wasn’t sure what sort of shape, but definitely a shape.

Stick arms, a pinecone mouth and buttons, a carrot nose (snapped naturally, courtesy of the boy) and a fetching pink hat and scarf combo were attached, then… ta-da! A proper snowman. Or maybe a snowma’am. Or something.

It looked a little like the lovechild of The Elephant Man and E.T. but was not bad for the kids’ first one. It was possibly my wife’s first snowman too as she couldn’t remember making one before either.

Angels in the snow-filled Tettenhall Pool followed, although the children were too small to form theirs properly. Either that or their halos had slipped.

Olaf fever had clearly caught on, and the little people were back building little snow people in no time.

Kids being kids, there is always an “on/off” switch with every activity. This time it was the switch that flipped between having fun and being two minutes away from hypothermia. A hasty bath and warm soup quickly transformed the chill-dren back into children and kept Social Services off our backs.

Later in the week, a whole new level of fun was presented when my wife dug my old sledge out of the shed.

I bought the sledge in 1989, a half price bargain from Mr Bevan’s in Mold, a few years before I left home. Well, I think I did. The factual accuracy of pretty much anything that I have done at any point in my life before breakfast is questionable. I’m not even sure what I had for breakfast most days, if I’m honest.

Anyway, somehow the sledge was bought from somewhere. I’m more certain about the “when” as it was the exact time that the planet’s core temperature rose sufficiently for the sledge to spend the next 28 years or so stuck in a garage, then a shed. Until Tuesday.

The boy loved it, zooming up and down Lower Green like a low budget, middle-class Cool Runnings remake. The girl enjoyed it less, not appreciating that high speed crashes are all part of the “fun.” Whereupon she just moaned. Then had a meltdown. Honestly, take a chill pill.

My wife came up with a cunning plan to rid herself of the earache, jumping into the unguarded sledge and whooshing off down the hill. She would have earned £250 from Jeremy Beadle had she been any closer to the tree half way down the slope too.

“Who’s the best at driving, kids?”
“Daddy.”

Probably.

When I left the Rebel Alliance base in Wolver-Hoth-ton on Tuesday evening, ahead of a meeting with officials from the Galactic Empire, all was calm, all was bright. When I returned the following evening, there was barely a trace of snow.

A week after it drifted in, White Christmas is seemly over. If it’s another 28 years until the sledge comes out again it may well be for the grandchildren. Perhaps “Sled in a Shed” may also become a thing once everyone has binned their elves?

With the snowman collapsing, the final task was to take its accessories back inside, although the scarf seemed to be hanging around while the hat went on ahead. Snow joke.

Fin.

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

In which our reluctant hero writes a sort of topical post.

Thursday 12th January 2017
It’s early. Too early. I slurp the dregs of my almost cold cuppa and start to apply layers of clothing before leaving for work. Shirt, tank top, fleece, duffel coat, scarf, gloves, hat, thick socks, emergency hat. Pants and trousers too, naturally. What do you take me for?

As the wind howls, I regret not fishing my long johns out of the drawers before bed. It’s too late now. I’ll take my chances against the elements, rather than risk any fallout from waking the missus up.

Leaving the house, it doesn’t feel that cold. Maybe it’s the layers. Maybe it’s not that cold. Or more likely a bit of both.

For clarification, I don’t usually wear every item purchased at the 2001 C&A closing down sale on a weekday morning. But today is going to be different. It’s going to snow. Probably.

I check my phone. The Guardian’s live snow blog, which is normally the barometer of impending doom, isn’t up yet. So far so good. However, it seems that I am wise in being prepared.

The BBC Weather app shows two days of intermittent snow for Wolverhampton. ITV News, whatever that is, is talking about gale force winds of 75mph and snow headed our way. Huffington Post are similarly predicting wintry polar blasts. Even The Independent are banging on about something called “Thundersnow” battering poor old Blighty. They’re making it up now. I don’t bother checking The Daily Express’ variant on “UK BLIZZARDS DISPEL GLOBAL WARMING MYTH” as that will just annoy me. Even the Met Office are issuing warnings of yellow snow. Or issuing yellow warnings of snow. Or something. Either way, it sounds bad.

I was born, and grew up, in Wales in the 1970’s. My blurry recollection is of snow most winters and, when it came, it came good and proper. The world momentarily stopped. We all downed tools (asides from snow shovels) and just got on with it.

Snowy days were great when I was little as it generally meant no school and lots of playing. Snowmen with coal for buttons and carrots for noses. Snowballs, sledging on bin bags out in the fields, freezing half to death, but back for tea to thaw out again.

Back then the weather was properly seasonal. These days it seems to flip between nothingness and total disaster. As a result, at four and two, our children have barely seen more than a dusting of snow, which seems a shame.

Having seen Amazon’s lovely “The Snowy Day” over Christmas, the children, or our eldest at least, are looking forward to making angels in the snow and catching snowflakes on their tongues next time it comes. Idyllic as it sounds, this may sadly not be possible as, the way 21st Century weather cycles are going, the next cold snap will probably be a mini Ice Age.

Our daughter first saw snow at two months old. I took her out into the garden to look at it, mummified in more layers than I was in this morning. It was cold and bright and she had no idea what was going on. After five minutes outside, new parent paranoia kicked in and it was back to the house where I checked her temperature for the next two hours in case of hypothermia.

Everything was of course fine, apart from when my frosty hands touched her skin. “SHE’S CRYING AGAIN! I’VE FROZEN HER!”

It was no wonder that I was worried. As, at the time, a first time parent of a tiny child, everybody who came through our front door had strong opinions (which they were all too eager to voice) about whether our baby was too hot, too cold, about right, or just needed another ten minutes to be done. Take a layer off, and the next person would put it back. Pop a layer on…

Needless to say, two years on, our youngest had his first glimpse of snow out of Gran and Grandad’s front window as big sister played outside with her uncle.

The next time it snowed, I took both children to the local park. It was the frostiest of mornings and we managed about ten minutes playing before our son, then one, started crying as his hands were too cold.

“Well, if you’re holding onto a frozen roundabout wheel without gloves, what do you expect?”

Nobody ever listens to Dad.

This (crying and cold things, although not listening to Dad is equally valid) has become a bit of a recurring theme. At a similar age, the waterworks were back on when he stuck his finger into an ice cream for too long. Ice cream and tears were reunited once more last summer, although this time an unprovoked attack by a sugar-crazed bee while we watched “Punch and Judy” in Llandudno was to blame.

Killer bee attacks asides, preparing against the elements is so much easier now that our children can talk. There are however three golden rules to remember;

  1. Occasionally, little people get “hot” and “cold” mixed up. So if you’re heading out into a blizzard, don’t take the snow suit off and pop swimming trunks on just because they said to.
  2. Prepare for the cold all you like, but at least half of the hats, gloves and scarves (maybe even wellies and socks too) that you start with will be lost within two minutes of leaving the house.
  3. Any item of protective layering not lost in the first two minutes will be unfit for use within a further three minutes. Socks will be soaked and gloves caked in lord knows what having been dragged down the sides of parked cars. You’ll notice a passing dog wearing a vaguely familiar Frozen scarf. Buy ten identical items of everything. Take spares and spares of spares. You still won’t have enough but you’re at least be in with a chance…

Back to the present-ish.

Thursday 12th January – 5:14 pm

It’s snowing. Heavily. I was right. Yay!

Oh. Hang on… There has been drizzle all day and the snowflakes are dying. My snow blog goes up tomorrow and at this rate there’s going to be no snow. The heavy stuff forecast for tonight better come, otherwise I’m going to look like a right idiot. Again.

And if there’s no snow I won’t get to post my mildly amusing meme debut. This is terrible.

Thursday 12th January – 10:26 pm
Things are looking more promising. The drizzle has turned to ice and snow is still forecast despite it being the clearest of nights. On a positive, it’s also Friday 13th tomorrow. It’ll look like Narnia by morning. Sorted.

Friday 13th January – 6:04 am
*Does a little snow dance in the kitchen*

Nothing.

Friday 13th January – 8:42 am
A flurry in Birmingham. Get in!

Friday 13th January – 8:43 am
It’s stopped. It didn’t stick. Nothing.

Friday 13th January – 15:00 pm
More nothingness in Birmingham. The snow clouds must still be in Wolverhampton.

Friday 13th January – 17:23 pm
No snow in Wolverhampton.

But wait. It turns out that the blogging gods were kind enough to have sent some during the school run. The kids saw the snow, messed around in it for a bit, were late for nursery, and all was well with the world. About an hour later it had gone. No matter. A topical post. Done.

So, there you go. Some anecdotes and advice about something that didn’t really happen much or for long.

Don’t forget to tune back in next week when I’ll be out and about putting children’s sun block and paddling shoes to the test at Tettenhall Pool.

Fin.