Walk This Way

In which our reluctant hero discovers that these boots are made for walking.

The week in which Auntie Beeb reported that exercise levels decline ‘long before adolescence’ (by age seven, apparently) has coincided with the launch of this year’s “Beat the Street” initiative in Wolverhampton.

According to the ever reliable Internet, Beat the Street is;

A fun, free game for the communities of Wolverhampton to see how far you can walk, cycle and run around your area and into space!

The game involves wandering around Wolverhampton and its surrounding areas (what could be more fun?) and tapping your game card on “Beat Boxes” attached to the occasional lamppost. Each tap logs the distance travelled between your taps and scores points. And what do points make? Prizes! Presumably the top prize being a trip to space, if the blurb is any indicator.

Society appears to be getting less active and, in a way, I’m surprised that the decline doesn’t really kick in until age seven.

Being active was much easier when I was a child in the seventies and eighties. Cars hadn’t been invented then and the Internet was only available in black and white, so it made sense to go out whenever possible. In the 21st Century, the age of hoverboards and Internet parties, somebody (else) will have to be blamed for this “lazy bones” epidemic. But who?

Suspect 1
The Schools – Apparently, there’s too much sitting about in schools. Although undoubtedly true, hasn’t this always been the case? I suppose the difference is that the cool kids now spend their breaks chatting on My Space and MSN rather than climbing trees and scrumping apples, like in my day. And does anybody remember that thing we used to have in the olden days called P.E.?

Suspect 2
The Government – Those fat cats and their stupid SATS. The kids are sat too long sitting flipping SATS. Is this why they is getting FAT?

(#couldhavebeenarapper #probably)

Suspect 3
The Parents – That’s right. Blame us again why don’t you? By the time we’ve finished eating our Pop Tarts, watching GMTVam and driving our little people the hundred yards to school, there just isn’t time for exercise thank you very muchy. So there.

Suspect 4
YouTube Kids – The absolute scourge of modern society. In the absence of any hard evidence to the contrary, I’m going with this. Down with this sort of thing.

We’re responsible-ish grownups. Sort of. So in an attempt to tackle the “war on obesity” (mostly mine to be honest – the kids are alright) my wife tried to obtain cards (beaters?) from our daughter’s nursery school, whereupon we encountered problem one. There weren’t enough.

Perhaps the school weren’t expecting nursery children to sign up, but to fall without getting to the stadium with the hurdles in, let alone attempting to leap over the things was disappointing. It eventually got sorted and we were back on track, so to speak.

On Wednesday morning, I was out at early o’clock to steal a march on my rivals (family) whereupon I hit problem two. The first Beat Box that I came to, at Tettenhall Pool, was broken. Undeterred, I carried on walking. To the bus stop no less, where I jumped on the bus.

After a glance at the online map and rules, I realised that catching the bus between boxes probably counts as cheating. It’s just as well that the box didn’t work then. One nil to me.

I arrived in town and jumped off the bus in Darlington Street, managing three taps in twenty-odd minutes before catching a train to work. I had amassed a paltry twenty points, although I managed a mile of walking in the early morning sunshine that I wouldn’t have done otherwise. And very nice it was too.

Meanwhile in Tettenhall, the rest of the family were up and out, and also failing to get their cards to work at Tettenhall Pool. They opted for a selfie and a ranty tweet to the council instead. All was well with the world once more.

On the mile and a bit walk to nursery, all three boxes failed to work. This seemed like a mean trick to play on a four and two year old, especially on day one. Good work in keeping the younger generation motivated, council.

Having dropped the little people off, my wife started to hunt down working boxes. A meandering route home via Tettenhall Wood ensued before collecting the kids.

The grand total of their combined efforts came in at;

  • Five miles walked
  • Seven boxes tapped
  • Three boxes registered taps
  • Twenty points amassed including none for the kids
  • One selfie
  • Two ranty tweets to the council

My walk home wasn’t much better. I soon realised that, once outside the inner sanctum of the ring road, Beat Boxes are more difficult to find than golden tickets in a chocolate bar, which I could have murdered after all the walking. “Eat the Street” more like.

Coincidentally, due to the lack of a box at the railway and bus stations, there are also only three potential taps on my three mile walk home. With the end one broken, my journey is worth twenty points and half a mile of registered activity. Bah. I decide to go off piste.

After half an hour, I finally find another beat box outside West Park School. I appreciate that it’s sensible to place boxes at schools as, if working, the children can tap away before lessons. This does, however, present an unforeseen issue of increasing the amount of sweaty, overweight, middle-aged men hanging around outside school gates, as I discovered while catching my breath on Wednesday evening. What would The Daily Mail think?

Having finally registered a tap, I headed as directly home as I could manage. With the endpoint not working, I decide to look for, and failed to find, the next nearest box which was supposed to be at the Old Bridge. Plumping for the one at Marks and Sparks (St Michael’s) instead, I gave up and headed for a well earned sit down.

Before bed, I checked my progress which revealed a rather disappointing;

  • Three miles walked
  • Sixty points scored

However, my fitness tracker had logged a whopping 19,108 steps (or 9.26 miles in old money) most of which were presumably spent trying to find a box, working or otherwise. I checked the Facebooks and lots of people were moaning about this too. Which I guess makes a nice change from them moaning about their usual stuff.

While the points and progress were somewhat disappointing, the overall gain was an extra four miles walking to any normal day, which is actually the point. The kids enjoyed it too as finding and tapping the boxes, even if they weren’t working, added a bit of excitement to their usual walk.

On Wednesday, I marked Beat the Street a B+ for the idea and D- (see me) for execution.

But all was not lost. By Friday, local keyboard warriors were reporting that some of the broken boxes were working again. Hurrah! Asides from the one at Tettenhall Pool. Boo! So, on we marched.

Comparing the positives and negatives, the positive is that the whole family is getting more exercise, which has to be a good thing. The negative is that with less time spent on trains and buses, there’s less time to blog. (Maybe that’s a positive?)

So if, in six weeks time, there’s no new post here, feel free to send a search party. Somewhere near a beat box would be a good place to start looking.


If all this hasn’t put you off, and your feet are getting itchy, NCT Wolverhampton have entered into the charities category of Beat the Street and are in with a chance of winning £250!

You can pick up your card from any civic office, library or at Wolverhampton Art Gallery. There will also be a limited number available at the Nearly New Sale on Saturday 18th March.

To register your card go to: https://beatthestreet.me/Wolves and select “NCT Wolverhampton.”

Every time you tap your card, you’ll be earning points for NCT. Which has to be a good thing, yes?

All Around the World

In which our reluctant hero delves inside number nine of the “Difficult Jobs for Dads” handbook.

There are lots of tricky parenting jobs. These include, in no particular order;

  • Keeping socks on a newborn (even using “Sock Ons”) for more than twenty seconds.
  • Adjusting a sling to fit dad without cutting off all circulation from the shoulders downwards.
  • Remembering to switch the baby monitor on.
  • Dealing with colic for more than a week without losing your sanity.
  • Collapsing and packing a pushchair in the car boot during the first six months of parenting.
  • Breastfeeding a tongue-tied baby. As a dad.
  • Staying awake long enough in hospital to get a sample from a dehydrated baby who has evacuated his bladder moments before being set said task by the doctor. (It took about seven hours for reference.)
  • Assembling a travel cot/ tent.
  • Remembering to switch the baby monitor off.

    You get the gist.

    There is, however, one task trickier than all of these tricky tasks combined. A task so tricky that it would win trickiest trick in the world trick-shot championships. So tricky that I blocked it from my mind after the last time that I attempted it, almost four years ago.

    Last Friday – 8:15 am in the morning.
    “Oh, and while you’re out you need to get the passport photos done.”


    Taking a passport photo of a small child is like going to a gig as an average sized adult. After two hours, the only thing you’re actually ended up seeing is the top of someone’s head. And boy, does it get noisy.

    Our littlest little person was a mere dot of a few months old last time I attempted this Herculean task. She was too young to sit up, so the process involved moving enough lamps to light Molineux into the dining room, laying her on an ironed (badly) white sheet, then trying to get her to look straight into a camera lens wobbling precariously above her head. It was a nightmare.

    After what seemed like an eternity, a couple of ok-ish photos were obtained from the hundred or so still lifes titled “ear of recently rolled baby.” Cue half an hour of photoshopping creases out of the sheets, a trip to Boots the Chemist to print, and voila. Never. Again.

    This time was going to be different. There was no tiny baby to shoot, so to speak, but a nearly two and three quarters year old. That can sit up. All by himself. And there’s a Photo-me-Quick booth at the top of the magic stairs in big Sainsburys. What could possibly go wrong?

    If you’re contemplating doing this, don’t. In theory it should be easy. Get the little man to stand on the stool, adjust the height, line up the eyes, pop the money in, pull the curtain, press go and done. What could be easier?

    First things first. The stool. It swivels. The first ten minutes were more painful than a Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers (one for the kids there) megamix of “Let’s Twist Again.” Having finally got the height right, I jam a French stick in to prevent further movement. We are ready.

    Without thinking, I insert five pound coins into the machine. This is clearly not a job for a dad, but one for a two year old. Releasing the French stick once more, I quickly reach into the shopping bag for a snack to diffuse the situation before the security guard, who is showing a bit too much interest in the proceedings, arrives.

    Take one.

    “OK. Stand still, pop your hands on your knees, and keep looking at my finger while the machine takes your photo.”
    “Yes, daddy.”
    “And dont smile.”

    5, 4, 3, 2, 1…


    Takes two to forty followed similar lines, but the biggest distraction was the flashing screen directly below the camera. Every time the shutter was about to click, the little fella would bend down to have a look what was on “telly.”

    After about three quarters of an hour, we had achieved roughly;

    • Nine smiley faces
    • Six grumpy faces
    • Twenty shots with no two year old in
    • Four shots of the top of a two year old’s head
    • One grumpy two year old

    Shot 37 was different, however. It had a green tick on it. A tick to say that it “may” be suitable for use in a passport. Woohoo!!

    I quickly pressed print, retrieved photos, child, shopping and baguette, and headed to playgroup, somewhere where we should have been half an hour earlier.

    A couple of hours later, we arrive home and I present the photos for further forensic examination. That is, the ruler comes out.

    “These are no good. His head is too big.”

    Oh, blame me for our child’s large head why don’t you? Technically it is my fault (you should see the size of my noggin) but I can’t alter genetics. I’m not Peter Parker.

    Two days later, I instigate Plan B. Which should, in hindsight, have been Plan A.

    Child, stool or chair, enormous white wall or ironed (yes, ironed) white sheet, smartphone, wireless-fireless, printer, photo paper.


    • Place stool against brightly lit white wall or wall with ironed sheet backdrop.
    • Sit child on stool.
    • Set smartphone to “burst mode.”
    • Position phone so that child’s head fills about three quarters of the camera screen.
    • Tap screen to focus.
    • Hold the camera button down for ages and persuade child to look at phone using prefered distraction techniques.
    • Repeat six to ten times.
    • Give child a lolly and review photos.
    • Find the one good one and delete the other five hundred or so.
    • Edit the brightness, contrast, and warmth settings so that the photo looks natural and the wall is white again. (Don’t be put off as this is really easy on your phone – just move the sliders until it looks right.)
    • Download a free app to make passport pictures (I used “Passport Photo ID Studio” on Android.)
    • Follow simple instructions.
    • Print on a sheet of photo paper.

    Six lovely passport photos. (Well, four as I didn’t put the paper far enough into the printer. D’oh!)

    If you’re contemplating getting passport photos of your child using a Photo-me-Quick booth, don’t. DIY. It’s the future. Right, dads?


    Sneeze Sneeze Me

    Season 2, Episode 24. In which our reluctant hero is feeling a little bit under the weather*

    This week, I have mostly been sitting on trains. Or should that be sitting “in” trains? No matter.

    Although somewhat of a pain, this is not always the hardship that it may seem. If nothing else, it gives me chance to catch up with a bit of telly. On a good week, it also helps me finish my weekly blog post before Friday’s half five klaxon. Sadly, not this week though. I have had a bit of a cold.

    To add some context, it’s just a head cold. The sort that makes you feel vacant and tired, like someone scraped your insides out and replaced them with porridge. Not even proper porridge either, but that yacky just add water stuff that some genius thought of popping in small packets to increase Quaker Oats’ profit margin by a gazillion percent.

    Granted, this particular strain of cold would probably kill the average human and/or medium sized elephant if they came too close. My immune system is usually pretty solid though, so you’re not going to hear me banging on about it. Much.

    Like many other things that I enjoy doing, like writing and photography, having a cold is an experience best enjoyed on your own. Plod through work, spend a few evenings with feet up on the sofa, watch some French New Wave cinema, snack on junk while sipping hot toddies, and all will be fine by the weekend.

    Being a dad, there’s clearly no chance of that happening so I (wisely) chose to tackle the worst of it sitting through a pile of management meetings during three days away. Meetings. So long as you remain conscious enough to nod your head and occasionally grunt in agreement then everything is fine. It always is.

    Occasionally, however, you don’t get that luxury. You have to be ill at home… *shudders*

    This is never easy, even for the most battle hardened dads, so I’ve cobbled together some quick tips on how to survive it. You’re welcome.

    Planning ahead
    Top tip: Freeze enough leftover veg, mash, pasta, corn cakes, booby juice, etc to survive a small nuclear war. This is good for;

    A) Those times where you’ve barely the strength to press “start” on the microwave mid-cold.
    B) Basic survival in 2017, what with the bonkers shenanigans going on over the pond.

    Failing that, don’t try to be Superman. Or Superwoman. None of you are going to come to much harm with a bottle, or boiled eggs and soldiers for a few days. Depending what’s in the bottle, and for whom, obviously.

    Moving on.

    Coping by developmental stage

    Part one – Birth to toddler
    It’ll all be fine. Trust me. Assuming that the little person is being breastfed, it’s immune system should only be penetrable by kryptonite. Make sure it’s topped up with fuel, pop on a play mat on the floor, reach for the remote and pop “Homes Under the Hammer” on series link. A doddle. If formula fed, buy shares in Calpol and some earplugs too.

    Part two – Toddler to two
    The key here is not letting on quite how ill that you are, then ring for help. By the time International Rescue arrives (or more likely Elf Rescue these days, yes?) it will be too late for the rescuers to turn back. It’s a dead cert that they are going to get ill too, so the least that they can do is let you get your head down for a couple of hours. The alternative isn’t worth contemplating.

    Part three – Two plus
    You may be at the stage of making use of a couple of hours at nursery or playschool per day which will help no end. Get some kip if you can. If you happen to be home alone it gets a whole lot more difficult. Hope is not lost though as there’s a few options that you can consider.

    i – Try to play with them
    Sounds fine, but it’s unlikely to work as you’ll be tired, grumpy and fed up with the mess within seconds. If you insist on this course of action, then playing the patient in a game of “doctors and nurses” may buy you a sneaky forty winks.

    ii – Leave them to it upstairs
    Have you seen that David Attenborough programme about the wildebeest migration across the Serengeti? The sheer pace and power needed to move so many animals across such distances so quickly is mind blowing. Impressive as this is, two kids left alone upstairs can displace the entire contents of a couple of rooms elsewhere (other rooms, downstairs, in the garden, down the shed, etc.) a whole lot faster.

    Work out the balance. Two hours peace followed by an hour of tidying has got to be preferable to three hours fighting a slow, crushing, yet inevitably losing battle, right? Deal with the aftermath later.

    iii – Leave the house.
    This is never a sensible plan in my experience. No good ever comes of it, especially with kids in tow.

    Soft play, playgroup or similar may seem like a good idea, but someone is bound to want to talk to you, and do you really fancy climbing through four cubic metres of coloured balls to retrieve that missing sock? Thought not. On a positive, the presence of a sensory room may buy you a sneaky forty winks.

    So, there you go. A few options to mull over. All doomed to failure. Go to work every time is my recommended action. It’s the only way to guarantee a rest.


    *PS: There’s a shiny chocolate coin from our pirate’s treasure box for the first reader to work out the opening reference. Bet you can’t.

    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…



    Stuck in the Middle with You.

    In which our reluctant hero is stuck for ideas. Again.

    Little people are funny, aren’t they?

    Our littlest little person has a silly little game that he likes to play at the moment. It’s a simple idea that usually starts with him crawling behind your legs, under a chair or table, or behind the curtains. The shouting then begins…

    “HELP! I’M STUCK!!!”

    Enter Player 2, a rookie from the rescue services, who then gets to pretend that they are unable to rescue him for a bit (cue excited giggles) before heroically saving the little man from his perilous fate. Which is a significantly worse predicament to be in than being at a perilous fete, although a badly run tombola can present its own ghastly issues.

    “Daddy saved you! Just in the nick of time! Phew!”
    “Again, AGAIN!”

    Repeat for another half an hour or so and done. Game over. It’s hilarious – for a while – and with the added bonus that you don’t always have to move off the sofa either. Result.

    To be fair, I quite like the game. It’s far less stressful than some of his previous ones – pretending that a room has caught light and running around shouting “FIRE! FIRE!!” for starters. Speaking as a Welshman, the Welsh generally don’t have that much to answer for. But, in this case, Fireman Sam is one of them. (See also Jonathan Davies for that horrific clearance that cost us the rugby against England last weekend. Gah.)

    Now, I don’t know where the idea for this mildly entertaining pastime came from, but I love the thought and creativity that has gone into it. Proper made up play. It has to be. People just don’t get stuck in things in real life, do they?

    Well, apparently they do. According to this snippet that appeared on the BBC News website yesterday…

    “Firefighters rescued a woman who became trapped in a tyre at a playground in Flintshire on Wednesday.

    A crew from Deeside was sent to the play park in Sealand just before 13:00 GMT.

    The woman had stepped through the hole in a car tyre and became wedged inside.

    Firefighters spent 10 minutes sawing the rubber and the woman was not injured.”

    The Welsh have a lot to answer for.

    An adult getting stuck in a tyre at a playground is like an adult reading a Harry Potter book. Neither thing should ever happen as the chosen apparatus is only supposed to be used by young children.

    There’s limited details about the individual caught up in this embarrassing debacle, which is probably just as well for her sake. The thing we know for certain is that the lady was clearly far too big to be trying to get through a tyre.

    Yes, the adult female body is a complex and wondrous thing, capable of allowing human forms to squeeze through incomprehensibly small spaces. And so are tyres. Sort of. But neither in nor out are interchangeable for grown-ups. Adults, be warned and stay well clear.

    I can understand the temptation though. There’s still a part of us that thinks that we’re still about two and that everything will always be fine. They’re usually not.

    For example, most of us parents will have tried a children’s swing at some point. They work at first, but is that creaking noise supposed to happen? And what is the noise? The chain about to snap, or just your knees?

    Adults entering soft play areas is also a recipe for disaster. If I had a pound for every time that my wife got stuck in a ball pit or climbing too far up the equipment, looking for missing socks or missing children, then I would have almost enough money to afford to take the kids to soft play.

    Fitness or, more likely, lack of it, is a problem for many of us parents too. I was a child of the seventies and eighties so remember the humble Spacehopper with great affection. How long could you manage to bounce on it in your prime? Twenty, maybe even thirty seconds before your legs gave in? Divide that by ten, take two off and that’s about how long that I stayed on before being strewn across the lawn in a crumpled mess in the summer of 2016.

    Bouncy Castles anyone? You can fill in the gory details of your own recent, probably slightly tipsy, adult experience of these yourself. I feel a stitch coming on just thinking about it.

    Will we ever learn? Of course not. So, next time that you get tempted, make sure that you have a responsible adult with you before going in.


    Wouldn’t it be Nice?

    In which our reluctant hero would like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony.

    I’m conscious that I’ve perhaps neglected the new mums and dads a little in my musings here of late. And the older ones. And the ones without children. But all that is about to change. Probably.

    As an award winning (NCT Wolverhampton “Volunteer of the Month” – July 2016) contributor to the massive dustbin of unnecessary parenting blogs that is the modern day internet, I’m often* asked;

    “What would be the one single piece of important advice that you would give to another parent? New or old, it doesn’t matter. Or a person generally.”

    See. Told you.

    As questions go it’s a tricky one to answer. Like “Whose idea was it to make yet another Bridget Jones movie?” or “WHERE HAVE YOU HIDDEN THE KIDS’ ARMBANDS?!!” ten minutes before the start of a swimming party. The modern day $64,000 question. Or the £256,000 question using today’s exchange rates if you prefer.

    Having thought long and hard about this, I always** give the same carefully considered answer.

    “Don’t give anyone any advice. Ever.”

    Yes, stick to this top tip and you won’t go far wrong. Not just in parenting, but in life. You’re welcome.



    Ok. I could quite happily stop there. Job done. Or I could expand. Read on if you like, else just hit “share” on the Facebooks and move on. It’s fine, really.

    Giving advice is a bit like going to McDonald’s as a treat. Everybody says that they want it, but once you start dishing it out, you find that there’s a sudden loss of appetite.

    We all ask for advice from time to time, the reason for which generally falls into one of three categories;

    • To reassure us that a predetermined choice is right (but are probably sticking to our choice regardless, so there)
    • To help us decide which one of a couple or more options to go for (but now have a focus of blame if it all goes horribly wrong)
    • We haven’t got the foggiest idea what’s going on… (usually this)

      Parenthood. The time that we are most likely to start involuntarily blurting out random questions at anyone within earshot. Your nearest and dearest or some random stranger who happens to be standing near the nappy section in Aldi, it matters not. You didn’t do this before, but you weren’t feeling inextricably tired, emotional, overwhelmed, and massively insecure then. It’s suddenly time for that long overdue trip to Argos to buy a good sounding board. Preferably in the sale and with an eighteen year guarantee.

      People are generally quite sensible when dealing with the onslaught of contradictory or just plain silly questions that you’re likely to fire at them in the early months. If you can find somebody with good listening ears and a mind like an open book on opening day of the open university bookshop then bingo. They may not necessarily agree with your approach, but respect your position and will help as best as they can within that framework. These people normally live in real life.

      Sadly not all people get the concept of empathy. For every dozen or so voices of reason, there’s a Katie Hopkins lurking. Minds closed. Earplugs rammed tightly in. There’s probably strongly held beliefs bubbling away under the surface, ready to erupt at the first opportunity presented. An unstoppable stream of opinionated lava that burns, belittles and undermines everyone that crosses its path. These people normally live under shady bridges somewhere inside your phone.

      Most of us aren’t daft. Even if it’s a case of copying off a friend on the bus, we’ve done enough homework to ensure that we don’t do anything that daft. Silly, maybe, but daft, no. So, the last thing you need to hear is that you’re doing everything wrong, or worse still, that you’re going to somehow hurt or damage your child. If it’s a medical issue ring a doctor, else the chances are that you won’t.

      The are some favourite areas for the hysterical rant brigade to get on their high horses about, ready to steam in and save the rest of us uneducated buffoons given half a chance.

      Over the course of the first couple of years, these will include sleep training, breastfeeding, formula feeding, when to wean, how to wean, baby led weaning, attachment parenting, dummies (how apt), colic, teething, weight gain, weight loss, weight stay-the-same, milestones, developmental leaps (what?!), sleep regression, potty training, potty regression, phonics, stereophonics, baby signing, baby singing. Blah blah blah…

      If you ever find yourself on the end of any of this nonsense, my (proper) advice is to step away (most likely from the keyboard) and find Mr or Mrs Sensible to sit you down with a cuppa and help pop your wobbly Scalextric back on it’s tracks.

      A lot of opinions are just that. Opinions. They’re not always backed up by fact. Worse than not being backed up by fact, they’re often straight out of The Daily Mail or, worse still, Mumsnet. Being bombarded by these “alternative facts” is a fate worse than a fate worse than death. Stop doing it. It’s silly.

      So, before pressing the panic button at the first sign of trouble, do a little research and try a few things out. Think things through and do what you feel is the right thing to do, as it probably is. Most of all, stop worrying. You’re doing alright.

      My other (proper) advice, for when the shoe is on the other foot, can be nicely summed up in the following words, found on a poster attached to my mum and dad’s kitchen pinboard.

      “Engage brain before putting mouth in gear.”

      Or, simpler still, “just be nice.”

      Yes, stick to this top tip and you won’t go far wrong. Not just in parenting, but in life. You’re welcome.




      Tellin’ Stories

      In which our reluctant hero discovers that there’s more to life than books. But not much more.

      Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

      This week is National Storytelling Week. Coincidentally, it is also the first week this year that I’ve started reading a book that doesn’t feature princesses or a monkey that has lost his mum. And what better excuse for the evil natured programme planners at CBeebies Towers to spice things up by wheeling out Tom Hardy (whoever he is) to do “Bedtime Stories” for the second time in a month. Can’t you give us poor dads a break?

      21st century almost-grown-ups are apparently reading more than ever. Sadly, for many of us, this is largely noise, cranked up to eleven, from the endless inane soundbites and clickbait that we are bombarded with during our waking hours.

      For may parents, the exception to this involuntary rule is the bedtime story. Children’s fiction may not be Shakespeare, but at least it contains coherent chunks that span more than 140 characters.

      Story time is often presented as an idyllic parenting ritual, where sleepy-eyed little people hang on mum or dad’s every word before cuddles and the nightly lecture about not getting out of bed until the sun is “up up” on the Gro-clock.

      And, to be fair, it usually is. It’s the bouncing on the sofa, emptying the re-stocked toy cupboard, arguing over telly programmes, refusing to go upstairs, splashing in the bath, refusing to brush teeth, suddenly becoming hungry seconds after eventually brushing teeth, jumping in the wrong bed and arguing over who’s turn it is for mum to do the stories beforehand that’s the problem. Every. Single. Night. But that’s not the story’s fault, is it?

      We read to our children because it’s important. Important as part of the bedtime routine. Important as it’s usually calm one on one time doing a shared thing, which is nice whether you’ve been out at work all day and missed everything else or not. Important as it fuels the imagination in a way that telly just can’t. Important as it can help increase literacy and learning in the long term, and help shape the next generation of cool kids that hang around in libraries and Waterstones at a certain age.

      But what chance have we got of keeping our children interested in reading once they can do it by themselves?

      My book is on my tablet which is convenient for commuting. But with the tablet comes distractions. There’s enough games, music, films and telly to provide a lifetime of entertainment and the temptation for me, an adult-ish man, not to read is often overwhelming. Children hardly stand a chance.

      Creativity requires time and patience, and often rises from boredom. Proper boredom rarely happens with so many distractions and the constant flitting from one thing to another must have a negative effect on our attention span. (Ooh, look… an aeroplane.) If we can’t concentrate long enough to read a book then we’re unlikely to do so long enough to write one. At this rate we’ll have run out of authors by the 22nd century. Perhaps we just won’t need any by then.

      However, all is not lost in the battle to save the humble story.

      Making time to read with children is the obvious first step. I’m finding that as our eldest is growing up and able to read some words, she is showing far greater interest in the actual stories and is asking questions about them. Which is great when they’re about things that I know about or can make up, less so if querying holes in the plot or anything Disney related, two concepts that sort of come hand in hand.

      Technology, used in the right way, may help too. Love them or loathe them, the gadgets are not going away, so why not give them a big cuddle? The tablet is not just your fifty quid babysitter from Amazon but a seven inch personal tutor too.

      While I’m in no hurry to ditch the old fashioned hardbacks at bedtime, there are plenty of alternatives for the bits in between. We have a free app with old stories like The Gingerbread Man on that our eldest likes, and the CBeebies Storytime app is excellent entertainment for a variety of ages. Even Dr Seuss is available for a couple of quid and there’s loads of phonics apps to help develop reading skills too. Sneaking some fun learning into playtime has to be better than another half hour of American children opening Kinder eggs on YouTube, right? I reckon that our two year old will be reading Dostoyevsky by the time he gets to nursery at this rate.

      There’s creative things to try too. After we read Alice in Wonderland one bedtime, our daughter discussed using our imaginations, being a central theme of the story. She was adamant that she couldn’t make up her own stories until I suggested that changing bits of her favourite story may be a good way to start. So she had a go. Ok, “The Bear Who Came to Tea” may result in a lawsuit if it ever gets published, but she really enjoyed doing it and there were sparks of proper creativity going on, even at such a young age.

      If I can nurture this creativity, I reckon that I can handover blog writing duties by the summer. After all, banging the same old rubbish out each week with a few words and ideas changed is all that I do. In the meantime, there’s always Tom Hardy for her to watch on telly with all of the thirty and fortysomething old girls across the land.