Sunday, 28 December 2008

Aye Aye.


The boy returned last night so we headed off with unexpected friend to one of my favourite Brigton (Hove actually) restaurants - Harry's in Western Road, where fine English food can be consumed. There was a slight delay in departing as various mobile phones needed to be 'reflashed'...the boy has an unnerving knack of turning the latest technology into ex-technology. Mission accomplished, and a short dash in the bitter, bitter cold got us to the restaurant. Liver and Bacon for me, a veggie burger for UF and a ginormous steak for the boy. Delicious.

This morning we had two missions to accomplish. Get the broken glases fixed (see previous post...I can't hyperlink as a) I don't know how and b) I'm on a Mac which means I can't do anything other than type simple words one after another - the PC seems to be in a terminal state - my fault, nothing to do with the boy) And find a coat.

Down at Vision Express, we were dutifully entertained by the really nice staff - how do they find and keep these people; they should be pleased that they get everything so right. As it happens, the boy's glasses couldn't be fixed immediately (no lenses in stock), so we bought another pair after a quick eye check. This was supposed to be a cheap pair until the proper ones are done, but surprise, surprise, they are Ted Baker ones and cost designer prices. I took the opportunity of having my eyes checked for the first time in four years, and I remain still almost perfect. They took a pictre of my retina, which they say will be e-mailed to me, so when it gets here I'll post it here. I found that bit really exciting, as I'm gradually building up a complete picture of the inside of my body - I already have x-rays of my fractured wrist and fractured elbow. So if I keep going my inner soul will be entirely on display. Hopefully, I won't have to break anything to get more pictures though....

...the search for the prefect coat was interminable. I think we went in every possible shop imaginable. They say that shopping is Britain's most popular hobby. Please tell me why. It's a nightmare, of surly staff, in-the-way other shoppers, and extended choice of everything that is NOT in the sale. We searched high, we searched low. The coats all started to look the same to me, but evidently none were good enough....fortunately that included the £500+ Nicole Fahri one that he was never going to to be got anyway. We ended up in the most improbable place...indeed the very last shop in Brighton - Moss Bros. Amazingly they had the best selection of all, and in the right sizes. So not surprisingly several hours were taken up with choosing the right one. With new coat and new glasses, there is something of a remarkable resemblance to David Tennant...so continuing the apparent Dr Who theme of our Christmas!

Friday, 26 December 2008

Yo ho ho

Well Christmas has done its usual trick of creeping up (in a rush) unexpectedly, bursting out in a rather brash and loud fashion, and then disappearing into a dark hole for another 364 (or is it 365 this time) days....I guess 2009 isn't a leap year. So another year when I don't have to worry about being proposed to on February 29th (I should be so lucky!)

I've been the most bah humbug about Christmas this year ever...mainly due to the sense of economic gloom crystalising rather sharply in December, and escaping complete financial collapse by the skin of my teeth...but more of that some other time. For no logical reason I remain quite confident that 2009 will turn out better than the press expect...and that whilst I know the world will change, it will be for the better.

More than ever, the festive festivities have had their surprising moments...a trip on Christmas Eve to Theresa the Nanny, followed by a relatively gentle stroll down the motorway to the Rhonnda. I played my cards well, and managed to keep the boy's much wanted present a secret...a watch that tells you the temperature (I work it out by whther I'm sweating or shivering), whether the tide is in or out (wet or dry feet), and which direction you're heading in (do they speak in a southern drawl, or scottish brogue). If you push the right button, it'll even tell you the time.



My present from the boy was a Stereophonics DVD, but not quite a surprise as I'd had to buy it myself; at least he wrapped it!

The day was pleasant enough...a trip out to Aunt in the Valleys, followed by a walk down in Cardiff Bay...bloody freezing, but delighted to find somewhere to buy a steaming cappuccino...hurrah, my hands were falling off, and a return to have a late lunch, traditional snooze followed by Doctor Who. And in the same vein, here's a picture of the boy standing by the entrnce to Torchwood.



The boy gave us a few fine songs on the guitar, which entertained me and delighted the Wicked Witch. Late, the boy and I retired to our shared guest room, where I was surprised to be confronted with the request that next year, "Could we go skiing?" I don't know why; I thought he was enjoying himself.

Boxing morning, I normally leave for Brighton early, but this year we headed off to the discount outlet centre at Bridgend...not that either of us was desperate to spend money, but I'd not been there, and the boy wants a smart coat. As it happens, surprisngly no coat for the boy but a pile of stuff for me, returning to Grandma's house with half an hour to spare before the boy's challenging sister arrived. Suddenly the boy turned as scarlet as Santa's costume, as he suddenly appreciated the downside of throwing a strop a couple of weeks ago whilst we were shopping for festive gifts. Surprise number 4. No present for sister. A major disaster was averted by 'Live with mother uncle', who produced out of a hat a magical iTunes voucher.

Having meeted and greeted, I've retreated to Brighton for 24 hours of RnR, until the boy descends again. And I'll probably spend some of that time re-writing this...

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Bloody annoying (2)

Or maybe "Wool, the, eyes, my, pulled, have, had, I

After a few nights when the boy has struggled to settle down (surely at 13, Christmas is not that exciting...is it?), the boy came down tonight long after he should have been soundly in the land of nod. By the cut of his jib, there was clearly something not quite right. Off goes the TV, closed goes the laptop (evidently boys can multi-task sometimes...but only when electronic gadgets are involved). Come and sit down and tell me what's wrong. Some hesitation (works well for dramatic effect), the boy sits and tentatively hands over his glasses. Broken glasses. Bad but not that bad...although whether they were snapped in his jacket when it was on his back as claimed or thrown on the floor is open to debate. Time for blubbering tears (works well on the heart strings). School jacket has been lost. He's known since last week and stayed stum. In (new) jacket was ipod and expensive headphones.

Loss of sympathy immediate.

Knowing what to do or say is beyond me.

He's only 13....but bloody annoying!

Merry Christmas one and all...

Monday, 22 December 2008

Bloody annoying

I seem to have nothing of any note to report. Zilch. Nadda. A big zero.

What is it with teenagers? They always do the exact opposite of what you expect. How annoying is that?

Having had pretty much a free run of things since school broke up ten days ago, he's done nothing that should send me into high dudgeon. Yes, there's a few clothes on the floor, yes he was ten minutes late back from meeting friends, yes he left a plate on the floor. No he's not stayed in bed all day, no he hasn't answered back, no he hasn't asked for extra pocket money. He's being perfectly reasonable about everything. So with the best will in the world I can't seem to find anything to get uppity about. grrr.

So it seems this really is the season of peace and goodwill to all men. And long may it last. I'm very grateful really.

My favourite line of the year, comes not from home, but from the office. We have a man of a different generation in the office. He reads the Daily Mail. He's married to Jane. One day last week he went home early because, quote, "Jane's washing machine has broken."

Naturally, we've followed his lead in assigning all things kitchen and bathroom in the office to the 'girlies' to look after (in between making cups of tea and coffee), whilst I'll sort out the boy things. I've extended this to home as well. However, it now seems that neither the boy nor I have any responsibilities for cooking, washing or cleaning. So soon we'll be dirty, starving and unkempt. But at least we have a big telly and lots of tools in the garage.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Hallelujah

I've decided at long last to turn to Jesus for salvation.

The decision was prompted this morning by turning up at the tube station (no Vespa or cycle for me today as I'm meeting the old boys for a stiff drink) to find the local churches handing out lovely hot coffees in plain white polystyrene cups (memo to self: sue like the McDonalds customer did on the basis that they failed to say that the coffee cup she bought contained hot liquid...she got $millions) and delicious home baked chocolate biscuits (memo to self: remember to sue; packaging doesn't say 'may contain traces of nuts'). The merry band were not collecting money, or forcing themselves or their views on dejected commuters in any way...so the refreshments, accompanied by hearty smiles were more than appreciated. (memo to self: remember to complain to Transport for London, as I'm sure they must have offended many non-Christians.

The boy remains away for a second night, hopefully completing his Christmas shopping with the ex-nanny, returning tomorrow. When he's in bed and asleep, I doubt I'll be able to resist trying to sneak a look and see what will be waiting for me under the Christmas tree on the 25th...

Monday, 15 December 2008

Party on

The boy did as he had been instructed, and was home by 10 on Saturday morning having stayed at a friends over Friday night.

And that was where it all started to unravel. The parents had gone away, leaving the 17 year old brother of the boys friend to look after them…some other 13 year olds, plus some fourteen year old friends of the friend’s sister. I think. Bed time, it transpires was about 6.30 in the morning.

For sure, I’m grateful that there was no alcohol involved, and nothing more addictive than X-Box 360 was consumed. And in general, I can’t deny that there appears to have been no shenanigans of any sort. So as all night parties go, this goes straight to the top of my list of things not to worry about.

But a boy who hasn’t had more than a few moments sleep is a very grumpy beast indeed. Saturday was largely devoted to the boy snoozing whenever he got a moment…and the car journey to Brighton was a good long snooze. But even an early night on Saturday, didn’t make up for it, so Sunday was full on ‘Kevin’ (Harry Enfield) mode. And as we were traipsing round the shops trying to buy imaginative, desirable presents, it made for a fairly grim weekend.

It’s a right of passage I suppose...and that is reward in itself. But as we ate pizza for lunch on Sunday, I was left thinking about how many more rights of passage I've got to look forward to. Uuurgh, there seems to be a long list...

And he does look quite sweet in the picture I took as he lay in front of the open fire…even if he has promised to remove parts of my body if I show it to any body. So please don't look.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Plastic surgery

Today I visited the doctor.

It's a rare thing for me...but evidently normal for men not to see the doctor from one year to the next, unless it's too late. Man flu (which I currently have) doesn't require a trip to the local GP, just acres of sympathy from your nearest and dearest (which I don't have, as the boy is in training for man flu too).

It wasn't much of a thing, simply having some skin tags removed. I did it once before and they burnt the tag off; this time it was 'cryo' - in the doctors words, "we're going to give you frost bite". Nice. Thanks. I think the doctor must enjoy his job, as he zapped not just the one or two on my neck I was aware of (the boy had on too many occasions pointed them out as ugly growths), but kept going and going. A bit like polishing out the scratches on your car I guess.

Six hours later, instead of withering and falling off, they've ballooned. So here's a picture of me as I currntly look:



Thank heavens, the boy has taken himself off for the night and won't have to witness this strange creature now inhabiting home. I, however, will get nightmares everytime I look in the mirror...especially if I wake up in the night and glance across to the mirror beside the bed.

As a postscript, I should pay a glancing debt of gratitude to Jonathan Ross, who once spent the early part of an interview with some fading celeb, discussing all the awful things that happen to male bodies as they age. So skin tags have been expected, as is unruly hair growth in unexpected places. Other bodily declarations of decay are to be avoided for now.

Seven of nine

My lovely friend Nappy Valley tagged me recently, and I have to confess it turned into a much greater challenge than I thought, so here are the various seven things...I may change my mind later:

7 things I plan to do before I die

- Visit every UN heritage site in the world (if I say it enough I will end up doing it)
- Spend a whole season skiing
- Build my own house (I’ve already designed it, and just need the money and the right place to put it)
- Let the boy buy me a pint
- Ride a motorbike from one side of the world to the other
- Something (however small) to help solve the Palestine issue
- Stop worrying about anything and everything

7 things I do now

- fall asleep on the sofa at 9 o’clock. It makes me quite huffy and puffy that I miss precious time with the boy
- always leave at least a couple of things to be washed up when we go away from either the flat or the cottage. It's a superstition that by coming back to something that needs to be done from the last time we were ther, then there's a continuity...I know it doesn't make any sense
- Spend most of my time getting angry about anything and everything. That makes me so angry. I think I've become a grumpy old man without realising it
- Cycle at least once a week the 25 mile round trip to the office. Usually it’s two or three times. It’s the most fun I have getting fit…and almost as good as the rollerblading I used to do
- Wonder why during the week we live in a tiny cottage that’s far too small for us, and then rattle around a flat that’s far too big for us at the weekends. There should be a better compromise
- Continue to not manage the finances in the same way I’ve always not managed the finances
- Love listening to the boy playing guitar…it’s such a talent to have. I hope he uses it well to entertain friends and family. And seduce girls when he’s old enough. 13 is not old enough

7 things I can’t do now

- Kite surf. I really, really want to but have little sense of balance and remain terrified that the kite will sweep me away to sea
- Get organised. I have (literally) a pile of unopened post 4’ high
- Relax. What’s that?
- Have a decent social life…I allowed the last five years of single parentage to get in the way of other things. Oops.
- Have a lie in. I miss that so much
- High jump. I humiliated myself at the boy’s school this year by failing to clear something that was about as high as my knees
- Enjoy ironing. And there always seems so much of it

7 things that attract me to the opposite sex

- strong mind, strong looks
- competitive nature
- wicked or rude sense of humour
- positive outlook and energy
- if they can tell me something I don't know, or do domething I can't do
- if they can change a plug. A wheel is even better
- good conversation

7 things I say most often

- umm or err
- I’m fed up with living in a pigsty, can you take your stuff to your room
- (and then) Tidy your room
- You c**t – when I’m cycling and someone steps in front of me, turns in front of me or otherwise puts my life at risk
- “aaaargh” When something hasn’t worked out as I expected. Which is usually every day
- “I hate this country”. Well I do. Whatever happened to the green and pleasant land of my childhood
- “How’s it going?” Out of genuine interest rather than a formulaic greeting

7 celebrities I admire

I have little time for celebrities who are generally self-serving egotists (but that doesn’t stop them being great actors, singers, etc). But I have my list of five (Friends introduced me to this concept…so hopefully you understand)…for the sake of this, I’m going to count them as one:

- Monica Bellucci, Joanne Whalley, Lesley Anne Down, Angelina Jolie, Audrey Hepburn

Plus six people who are famous for being great

- George Bush. Ha only joking. Jimmy Carter is doing a lot now to put the world right
- Vladimir Putin. I like to know where I stand with someone. And you know where you stand with him. Rightly or wrongly
- Ian McEwan. I read ‘Black Dogs’ cover to cover whilst waiting for a flight from Turkey
- Anish Kapoor. I stumbled over his work in Madrid, and am now obsessed
- Muntadhar al Zeidi. In one small act he summed up the feelings of the whole world. Many people were secretly saying "I wish I could have done that"
- Stephen Fry. Somewhat over-hyped at the moment, but clever and amusing

7 favourite foods

- Chicken liver fried in red wine on a bed of spinach in a ring of rice, with soured cream poured over the top
- Tuna with cannellini beans, parsley and red onion swimming in olive oil and a dash of lemon juice
- Salted pistachio nuts
- Venison or bison or buffalo – stewed or grilled or roasted
- Marmite spread thinly on bagels. Or on Twiglets
- Cheese – stilton and anything that really stinks
- Marshmallows. Don’t know why

7 other bloggers

- much as I enjoy doing this…I know I can be a pain for some people, so I will simply tag the first seven people who come to visit…but don’t in anyway feel obliged, at all.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Three colours. Blue



I was never aware of father/son rivalry until three years ago when the boy started attending the same school as I had done thirty odd (and even) years ago. I was moderately successful...some good grades, some average grades, I managed to make prefect and even monitor, but at the crucial moment was distracted by a girl so got the interview, but didn't get the place at Oxford. Academically, the boy is well ahead of me...but not knowing how well I did keeps him on his toes. I shall choose my moment to tell him carefully.

On the sports field I was hardly Olympic Gold medal stuff, and in most cases did my utmost to avoid anything that involved running around chasing an odd-shaped ball in the cold and wet. There's always been a wry smile on my face then when ever it's mentioned that I achieved School colours for my cross-country running. Not that I was any good, it's just that I turned up and ran until I got a little tired. I've kept the tie ever since as an amusing momento.

The boy was delighted that when he arrived at Bancrofts, cross country running had been demoted to half-colours, minor sport; I was crest-fallen...but not much. From the glint in his eye, it was clear his sights were set, and he'd soon be the equal of my sporting achievement.

It has spurred the boy on, and his sporting prowess includes being best at javelin throwing for two years, captaining the house athletics team, joining the swimming squad, and playing for the school rugby team for the last three seasons.



And boy has he worked at it, and where he has lacked talent, he has more than made up for it in grit and determination. And a stubbornness to succeed which is inherited in equal measure from both his mother and his father.

He was gutted then on Saturday when at the end of the season, again, he was overlooked for school colours inspite of his endeavours on the rugby field. The devastation was there for all to see. And I too felt he had been robbed - he turns out religiously and tries his damnedest. He deserves them. I'm sure he does. But no words of consolation from me have or will make up for him not getting them. I suspect to him, I am the winner, magnanimous in victory. Which is a shame, and I will have to work doubly hard to keep him motivated for next season. Nothing would please me more to see him beat me in classroom, field and office.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Going underground



Whilst the world crashes around us, it's nice to know that somethings don't change. Although the office is as close to London Bridge as it is to Tower Bridge, we work in a village...not the oft spoke 'global village', but Bermondsey village...if you can read the pic, you'll see it's official. And it is true that just around the corner is our Village Hall. I like that very much, it gives us a real community feel. Although the spirit can sometimes be lacking - and I've never seen any Morris Dancing around here. Inspite being in a 'village', there have been three murders here this year - most in the national press. The owner of the local sandwich shop killed by her chef (allegedly) because she objected to him smoking pot, a shooting in a nightclub in the tunnel, and a youth knifed in a local park. Random acts of violence do make me worry excessively for the boy's future...I hope through luck or thought remains safe as he grows up.



Also photographed, is the curious drainpipe. As you can see it goes up the side of the wall in Bermondsey Street tunnel. I think it's a piece of sculpture, as it serves no purpose that I can see, and I've had a pretty close look - it's got two ends, but there is nothing attached to it behind...so the best you can do is put a ferret in one end and watch it run out the other....assuming it's dextrous enough to get past the U-bend at the top. The word 'random' scrawled next to it may be a clue.

And finally, is the road sign in the tunnel which seems to over-complicate things by suggesting we seek alternative routes as the footpath is closed...there is a perfectly fine one on the other side of the road...perhaps they can't suggest we cross over in case we get knocked over and sue...



I saw on the SkyNews web site the world's largest rubber band ball - it's about seven foot across. I think they've been cheating - some of the rubber bands look enormous. We've been doing one for the last few years by collecting the rubber bands that the postman carelessly chucks on the ground when delivering the post. Ours is the size of a generous grapefruit. But probably not as tasty.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Jingle bells



Christmas is a coming. The season starts for me on 1st December asit's on that day I stop changing channels whenever a Christmas advert, that's been showing since August, comes on the TV. All those impossibly glamorous ads for the latest perfumes and aftershaves means that the turkeys should start feeling nervous. Equally the countdown to the holiday ads which start on Boxing Day also begins. So the excitement begins to build...especially as it seems this year we'll be having flurries of snow throughout December.

We'll get our office Xmas tree from the very fabulous Borough Market at a price which is about double what anyone with any sense of reason or fairness (or credit crunch) would charge for it, but it'll look lovely once we've put the lights and (corporate orange) baubles on it.

At home the Xmas Decs will go up around the fifteenth of the month...Brighton has a very unsophisticated 6' fibre optic tree which kinda catches the spirit of the season, but in Buckhurst Hill there just isn't room for a tree, so we throw some sparkly lights on the bushes which I've done my utmost to kill this year...inability rather than anything deliberate you understand of course, I hope.

Today, whilst trying to find my way to Cavendish Square, being guided by a satnav which has little sense of direction, and certainly doesn't know its left from its right, I ended up somewhere between Piccadilly and Soho, ducking under some gargantuan snow men hung across the streets. Which was nice. And then turned into Regent Street, where the Christmas lights are a beautiful series of twinkling spiderswebs. Fabulous.

I love Christmas...secretly I still believe in Santa Claus, love the Christmas lights and remain convinced that there will be six inches of snow when I wake up on the 25th, and relive happy childhood memories of large family gatherings which just seemed to go on and on and on.

But this year, Christmas has become a bit of a challenge...for the last four years, the boy and I have dutifully trecked down to Llantrisant to spend time with The Wicked Witch of the West. It seems only fair that if TWWOTW has lost her daughter, then grandson should be there. And the boy has always enjoyed going. The first couple of year's the boy's sister deigned to honour us with her company, so it was a good family gathering for the two of them. But the sister has singularly failed to keep in touch with "itttle bruvva", almost since they were separated and she went off to live with her father whilst the boy came to me. And she is less and less inclined to come across to the Christmas celebrations.

Equally as time has gone on, I've felt more and more like a rasher of bacon at a Jewish wedding (sorry, not PC - please suggest acceptable alternative)...not that I'm not welcomed with open arms, its just that they didn't speak to me for five years from the onset of divorce procedings until the day that the brain haemorrhage struck down the boy's mum. So it's always a little uncomfortable (my problem, not their's)

And then last year, after a day of doing nothing but watching TV (apart from a couple of hours when I escaped for a very long walk by myself), I vowed not to spend the day in Wales again.

Which went down like a lead balloon when I told them ("Well you're always welcome you know"), but the boy merely shrugged his shoulders when I started dropping hints about nine months ago. And he's right, it's my decision not his...but some guidance would help.

So all well and good providing we have a good alternative. But we don't. I haven;'t got a Plan B, let alone a Plan A.

At one stage I thought we might get to ski for Christmas...but tightening of belts and declining business haven't allowed for that

And there's a high risk of the boy and I in Brighton entertaining ourselves for Christmas Day. And even I know that's not good.

So either I swallow my pride, make the arrangements to go west, or spend a day full of guilt-ridden angst...now which should it be?

Monday, 1 December 2008

Motorbikin'





Yesterday we skeedaddled up to Birmingham to the Motorcycle show and see the latest on two wheels. I have a terrible conscience about encouraging the boy and his interest in bikes, but hopefully when he sees me fall off and hurt myself he will see the folly of my ways and decide not to tread in my footsteps. Naturally I don't regard buying him a copy of Nick Sanders book about riding round the world is in any way encouragement. Umm

Of course there were lots of exciting things to see and do. We tried out all the bikes for size...so I know that you need to be a chimpanzee to ride a Harley, and a midget to ride a Buell, unless you get the long wheel base version! The boy seems to favour shiny new Chinese bikes...which I think is sensible since they will dominate his world, and we both loved the Triumphs. We giggled over the sign on the Chinese bike which warned us not be touched on the muffler..something everyparent should teach their offspring.

I'm still saving for my KTM, although was distracted by the thought of a Royal Enfield, which is little changed after fifty years, though these days enjoys a made in India tag.

We agreed that we would get two bikes and ride them to see Grandma in Cyprus. How we reconcile that with our agreement that the boy will not have a bike until he's 25, I do not know.

Disappointingly, neither of us enjoyed the promotional girls...all of whom looked erm well err rough and not in a good way. I think I did the right thing at least in saying to the boy that if he was going to look at them to not do it furtively...better to have these thing in the open.

And finally (depending on how Blogger decides to layout the blog...I just don't know how to get things positioned at certain points in the text...) the most exciting thing EVER was the Wall of Death. Noisy, smelly, fast and furious. And enough to scare the living daylights out of the four year old standing next to us.
video

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Dad


This is the little speech I gave at my Dad's funeral earlier this year. I had meant to put it on the blog at the time, but instead hid it in the drawer. So not in the normal run of things...and more for me than anyone else....

I’m sure my Dad…our Dad would be pleased to see the family gathered here today. And typically in our family gatherings I suspect he would be glad to know he is the centre of attention…but on balance would have preferred it if he could have had a raucous sing song whilst drinking that strange combination of whiskey and orange squash. A drink I once tried but only once.


When coming to write this I realised that there was a lot to say, but not really much time to say it. And that is true of life itself. There is too little time…we all here have got to whatever age we are now faster than we expected…and that was true for Dad too. He retained a youthful and mischievous glimmer in his eye even though age and illness took its toll in recent years.


I think a father’s role is to inspire through his own successes buy also through his weaknesses as well. I think Dad did both in good measure. In the areas where Dad was great I have been inspired, and where there were flaws, I have learnt. Today I just want to mention a few things that shape my memories of Dad’s life.


It has come as a surprise to be standing here today…and I have to say not least because even to the end, Dad insisted he was fat …and forty.


You Jean, Sheila and Dermot will know better than I how hard life was when you were all young. Dad used to tell the story from those times of how he used to steal the evaporated milk by making a pin hole in the bottom of the tin and sucking out the contents. Evidently Nanny Bowman could never work out why the tins she bought were always half empty. It was always a story told with affection…I truly believe that he understood that what ever the deprivations of his childhood, they were good family times.


He was a very generous person. I remember lavish Christmases…always a present or two in the morning, a much anticipated table present over dinner and then the excitement of handing out the presents when everyone had gathered in the afternoon. These were good Christmases and as I have grown up, I have missed the large family gatherings. But it wasn’t just at Christmas that Dad showed his generosity. At many other times when someone was in need, he did not hesitate to help them out.


I remember Christmases for another reason...it was a time for Dad to take centre stage and sing one favourite or another. He may not have been Mario Lanza…but he certainly aspired to it. He could be the life and soul of any gathering. And, as I understand it, that was quite an achievement for someone who was really quite a shy person at heart.


Although Dad was often absent as Kevin and I grew up there can be no doubt that he loved and cared for both of us immeasurably. And I believe we have learnt from that experience – and become very involved fathers to our own children. It is a role we love and enjoy every moment of every day.


Dad was full of surprises. You can imagine the surprise when Dad took me up to his new home in Leek for the first time and there was a lady there…never previously mentioned. If I remember rightly she was simply introduced as Doreen. His ability to surprise never left him. It was, after all, just eight weeks ago that over the telephone he announced “I’m married”…something that perhaps he could have mentioned four or so years ago. But that was Dad…and it brings a smile.


At work Dad has been an inspiration. From the shop floor he worked his way up and into the Board room. In those times, that was a remarkable achievement particularly in a family owned and managed company.


Cooking was one of those things that Dad enjoyed, and somewhere that his talents brought joy to others. Favourite dishes were scampi wrapped in bacon and ham cornets. Always a pleasure and a treat. For me it was a shame that in later years he lost his cordon bleu skills…and perhaps more of a shame as Fred here will testify is that he didn’t manage to transfer his expertise in the kitchen to me. That is not to say that he lost his love of food...because he didn’t…even if favourite food became Mr Kiplings Almond Slices.


I don’t know anyone else whose father has built a boat to take the family on holiday. The Norfolk Broads were a firm favourite…and I well remember one son being plucked from the water having fallen in trying to catch a dead fish, and the other son being rescued having sunk into the muddy banks up to his knees and beyond. They were fine holidays.

Dad was a caravaner. There were holidays to the South West and others to the Lake Districts. I do though think he took it to the extreme when he first came up to Stoke on Trent, and the caravan became his home.


Dad spent many hours playing cards…one form of patience or another. As he got on I noticed the rules seemed to change or perhaps he tended to cheat a little more…but I don’t think we begrudge him that do we?


But I just want to return to that drink of whiskey and orange squash. The one time I tried it was after O levels, I persuaded him that we wanted to give one of our teachers a bottle of whiskey to thank him for everything he had done for us. Instead, of course it was for a school boy’s party. I managed half the bottle mixed with squash and have regretted it ever since. I suspect Dad knew the bottle was not destined for a teacher, but chose to indulge me and turn a blind eye to the misdemeanour. He was good at that – and it’s been a lesson to me to know when to indulge and also when to turn a blind eye. It’s quite a skill to have learnt.


In his later years, Dad knew his time was drawing to an end…but that didn’t stop him fighting with the same determination. For him life was a journey and he travelled well.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Jingle bells

Christmas is a coming. The season starts for me 1st December it's on that day that I stop changing channels whenever a Christmas advert, that's been showing since August, comes on the TV. Actually, all those impossibly glamorous ads for the latest perfumes and aftershaves means that the turkeys should start feeling nervous. Equally the countdown to the holiday ads which start on Boxing Day also begins. So the excitement begins to build...especilly as it seems this year we'll be having flurries of snow throughout December.

We'll get our office Xmas tree from the very fabulous Borough Market at a price which is about double what anyone with any sense of reason or fairness (or credit crunch) would charge for it, but it'll look lovely once we've put the lights and (corporate orange) baubles on it.

At home the Xmas Decs will go up around the fifteenth of the month...Brighton has a very unsophisticated 6' fibre optic tree which kinda catches the spirit of the season, but in Buckhurst Hill there just isn't room for a tree, so we throw some sparkly lights on the bushes which I've done my utmost to kill this year...inability rather than anything deliberate you understand of course, I hope.

Today, whilst trying to find my way to Cavendish Square, being guided by a satnav which has little sense of direction, and certainly doesn't know its left from its right, I ended up somewhere between Piccadilly and Soho, ducking under some gargantuan snow men hung across the streets. Which was nice. And then turned into Regent Street, where the Christmas lights are a beautiful series of twinkling spiderswebs. Fabulous.

I love Christmas...secretly I still believe in Santa Claus, love the Christmas lights and remain convinced that there will be six inches of snow when I wake up on the 25th, and relive happy childhood memories of large family gatherings which just seemed to go on and on and on.

But this year, Christmas has become a bit of a challenge...for the last four years, the boy and I have dutifully trecked down to Llantrisant to spend time with The Wicked Witch of the West. It seems only fair that if TWWOTW has lost her daughter, then grandson should be there. And the boy has always enjoyed going. The first couple of year's the boy's sister deigned to honour us with her company, so it was a good family gathering for the two of them. But the sister has singularly failed to keep in touch with "itttle bruvva", almost since they were separated and she went off to live with her father whilst the boy came to me. And she is less and less inclined to come across to the Christmas celebrations.

Equally as time has gone on, I've felt more and more like a rasher of bacon at a Jewish wedding (sorry, not PC - please suggest acceptable alternative)...not that I'm not welcomed with open arms, its just that they didn't speak to me for five years from the onset of divorce procedings until the day that the brain haemorrhage struck down the boy's mum. So it's always a little uncomfortable (my problem, not their's)

And then last year, after a day of doing nothing but watching TV (apart from a couple of hours when I escaped for a very long walk by myself), I vowed not to spend the day in Wales again.

Which went down like a lead balloon when I told them ("Well you're always welcome you know"), but the boy merely shrugged his shoulders when I started dropping hints about nine months ago. And he's right, it's my decision not his...but some guidance would help.

So all well and good providing we have a good alternative. But we don't. I haven;'t got a Plan B, let alone a Plan A.

At one stage I thought we might get to ski for Christmas...but tightening of belts and declining business haven't allowed for that

And there's a high risk of the boy and I in Brighton entertaining ourselves for Christmas Day. And even I know that's not good.

So either I swallow my pride, make the arrangements to go west, or spend a day full of guilt-ridden angst...now which should it be?

It's cold outside

Oh no, tomorrow is Saturday, and it's the last home match of the season, so I'm duty bound to stand watching thirty boys running around chasing an odd-shaped ball for an hour.

Not that I'm not interested.

Not that I'm not fearsomely proud of the Boy being in the first fifteen (I never had the drive, skill, enthusiasm and determination, let alone the motivation).

Not that I won't be cheering him and the rest of the team on.

No. It's just that it's bloody wet and freezing out there.

Still, Bancrofts is renowned for putting on the best post-match food.

And yes, I'm tired, selfish and grumpy today.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Life through a lens/Sureality

The unfolding events in Mumbai (called me old fashioned, but I'm afraid I still have to translate that back to Bombay, in the same way, Beijing sticks in my head as Peking...however Rhodesia has made the transition to Zimbabwe) are truly shocking, and today I've been following it on the live text feed on Sky News, whilst generally avoiding work. In amongst the regular updates on bombs, fires, hostage taking, death and destruction has been the effect on the cricket...will England stay, if so where will the next test take place and so on. Now I do appreciate that cricket is almost a religion in India, but equally I think that whether the cricket goes ahead or not probably shouldn't be mentioned in the same breath as how many people have been slaughtered. Perhaps I'm wrong.

On a different level altogether (and I appreciate I might be accused of some hypocrisy here), the route I cycle in to the office is a lovely main road through Epping Forest. The local council has taken it upon themselves to clear the path between the road and the forest of fallen leaves...and you can imagine that at this time of year there are a fair number of them. And the way they do it is to sweep up the leaves into big plastic bags, which are left at the roadside for collection at a later date. The logic of this defies me completely...surely, you'd simply sweep the leaves into the forest (there's no physical barrier to stop this) to nourish the grounsd, and do all those things that would happen in the normal cycle of plant life. I keep meaning to take a picture as I ride past, but keep forgetting...so sorry about that.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

On the job

Yesterday I spent the afternoon in a judging session at the Royal College of Art, for a competition that we're involved in - Toyota are launching a rather fab city car, the iQ, in January and have teamed up with the RCA to challenge students to come up with ideas that embody the concept of 'intelligent urban living'. Some of the ideas are weird, some whacky and some excellent...but I can't reveal anything for fear of getting into trouble. I was surrounded by some of the cleverest design experts in the country, and the atmosphere was quite rarefied. I should point out that I was an observer, rather than a judge. Nonetheless I found it very exciting.

But what occured to me was that, when I was 13 there was no way I could ever have predicted or imagined that one day I would be sitting in an office in the leading institution of its kind looking at newly-borne ideas that could potentially change our world. Regularly I sit in meetings surprised to be where I am, and wondering how I got there. I'm not sure what I thought I would be doing now when I was 13...I suspect my vision didn't extend much beyond the sixth form, perhaps to university...but I'm sure no further.

At the moment the boy has his career ideas firmly fixed on MI5 or MI6...a combination of too much James Bond, and me telling him that he can go in the Army Cadets but woe betide him if he thought he was going to put on a military uniform once he leaves the school cloisters. I'm still hoping that, as predicted by a fortune teller before he was born, he will end up as a marine biologist...and that he'll spend his time in some tropical paradise amongst the fish and coral.

I suspect, though, that we'll both be wrong and he'll do some unimaginable jobs, which probably don't yet exist. I find that quite exciting.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Six things

Well the lovely Rosiero tagged me to reveal six things that make me happy, and six things that are interesting. I've found it quite tough, but here goes:


Things that make me happy

1. Snow. I would like it to be snowy every day of winter and for it never to turn slushy. Of course it’s even better if it’s on a mountain

2. Smokey pubs, especially while drinking a glass of Strathisla whisky. I know they don't exist anymore, and I hate smoking with a passion. But pubs are supposed to be smokey and smell of stale beer.

3. The boy – nothing comes close (of course). Every moment of every day

4. Rollerblading - when I can on a Wednesday or Friday night with up to 500 other skaters round the streets of London

5. The roof down on the car, especially when it's a moonlight night, and better still if it's snowing

6.Time to myself. It doesn't happen very often, so I revel in it. But all things in small doses


Six interesting things


1. I’ve skied with a murderer – a very sad tale, but if you Google Gordon Wood and Caroline Byrne, you’ll see he’s just been convicted of throwing her off a cliff. He was hiding in Megeve, which is where we go skiing, and he used to take pictures of and for the Boy and I on the piste

2. My wife and I met and married in 99 days. According to friends, when we met there was an audible resonance when our eyes first met.. We had just two people at our wedding, and no honeymoon. We never looked back until we divorced. Five years and five days later. (Actually it was six days, but that doesn’t quite work as well)

3. I once went to collect a plain brown envelope from a penthouse in Hyde Park. In the envelope was £20,000 to stop my then girlfriend bringing a court case for sexual harassment. Another way of describing it was that I slept with a woman who had slept with the father of the man who was sleeping with the (then) future queen of England

4. My plan for when I give up work (which will be in about two weeks if the economy keeps going as it is) is to visit every UN World Heritage site – there’s nigh on a thousand of them. Kind of a ‘Greatest Hits’ Tour. If I’m clever I’ll write a book on it, but I suspect I won’t be!

5. I have a Cilla Black greatest hits CD which I adore. Fortunately the rest of my music collection consists of Foo Fighters, Stereophonics, Kings of Leon, Duffy, Killers, Editors, Manic Street Porters, Lloyd Cole and so on. Plus Englebert Humperdink

6. I've bee kissed by a German cow. In my year between school and university I worked in Oberjoch, a village in the German alps. I spent my afternoons climbing, and one day lay down for a snooze in a field. I was woken by a cow licking my face

Now I think I'm supposed to nominate six more folks...but I'm iot sure who or how, so have patience....

Monday, 17 November 2008

Unforgetable

There are a few things that I might forget as I and the boy get older so I thought I'd put them down here:

1.When he was a wee bairn, he never sneezed; he pinged
2.When he was a mere six hours old, being held by his mum, he peed in an immaculate arc straight into said mum's handbag
3. He got stung by a bee on the beach and fell asleep; he ran into a door, broke his nose and fell asleep; when he was half-way born he fell asleep
4. He learnt to ride a bike from first getting on to riding off by himself with no stabilisers in two and a half hours
5. The first time he had Coca Cola was at Liverpool st station; the bubbles went straight up his nose
6. His first ice cream was a 99 at Kew Gardens; he wasn't expecting it to be cold
7. His first denim jacket which would just about fit a teddy bear; I still have it
8. His first night he slept on my chest whilst I gazed in awe
9. He ate so many strawberries one day that his face looked like one
10. He used to drink the gravy from the boat if we didn't keep an eye on him
11. He used to snuggle into my bed at 5 in the morning
12. He used to have a little plastic cat with wheels for back legs that he carried everywhere
13. His first step was taken in Brighton New Years Eve Eve
14. A wave nearly washed him away on the promenade in Brighton and we've never had a storm like it again
15. He used to jiggle his legs when sitting down. The last time his mum told him off, it was about jiggling his legs. He stopped doing it until six months ago.

Nights in White Satin (3)

Laundered and ironed sheets, pillow case and duvet cover together with damp pillow (slight staining remaining) miraculously re-appeared on the doorstep before I got home tonight. Accompanying note: "Thanks for Saturday night - 1 port too many I think!!!"

Friends....

Nights in White Satin (2)


With my memory slowly returning...I felt compelled to add the school song we sang after the meal. I'm putting it down EXACTLY as it appeared in the programme...so I hope you can see why we all collapsed into giggles half way through:

Floreat Bancroftia,
Floreamus pueri,
Vivat et memoria,
Fundatoris nostril
Nobis in aeternum,
Magni sint honores,
Floreat Bancroftia,
Floreant rectores

The printer doesn't appear to be a latin scholar, but clearly has a nose for business!.

And the photo is simply to show what happens when you let someone who can't speak a language produce something in that language...

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Nights in white satin

I read somewhere recently about the challenges of the etiquette of what to do with the bed linen when you stay with someone. At the end of the stay, should you make the bed? Surely not because that implies the host will leave the same sheets on for the next guests. Should you leave it un-made? No because that implies you are slovenly. Oh the dilema. Well, there's a third option:

Saturday night was the Old Boys annual dinner, so I had a couple of Old Boy friends (I don't mean old boyfriends, quite a different thing altogether) to stay as they live a distance, and we are within a few hundred yards of the school...yes the boy goes to the same school that I used to. The evening started well...the boy was going off to a friend's party and was staying over with a mate, leaving the big Old Boys to relive old memories. First OB arrived, and momentarily got confused thinking the boy was me...the first of three times last night that the uncanny resemblence betwen the boy and I was commented on. With the second OB here, we had a quick snifter before setting off. Them a 'girly beer' - a little bottle of 33...and me a shot of finest bourbon. On arrival, we had first one beer, then a second before proceeding to the dining hall to enjoy a fine meal cooked in the school kitchen - it really was tasty. The meal was, of course accompanied by wine. Erm several glasses and then port passed to the left with the cheese. We managed to finish two bottles. Afterwards we retired to the bar, and I'm confident that by this stage my conversations with the headmistress and the games master and the german teacher (she's english) will substantially enhance the boy's school career...oops. Another couple of beers were downed before we walked in a straight line home. Where it was time for a night cap. And then another. I think my light was tured off at 4.00am. To put this in context, I can and do often go for weeks without a drop of alcohol passing my lips.

I arose mid-morning to find that OB1 had left having made his bed. Now I know what he thinks of me. OB2 had also left. But there was something missing from the room. The towels, the sheets, the duvet cover, the pillow case and the pillow itself. I'm sure the mystery will be revealed. I think I might know the answer already. But I don't want to think about it.

And when the boy rematerialised, he asked if I'd had a good night. I kind of groaned to which I got the response, "Well if you can't remember it must have been good." Oh dear perhaps I've been teaching him all the wrong things....

Friday, 14 November 2008

I'm no good

I've done a truly terrible thing.

I've taken the boy's laptop away from him.

What I hadn't realised was that this is the equivalent of making Amy Winehouse go cold turkey.

For me a computer is just something to write my blog on, watch iplayer, listen to itunes, play a few rounds of solitaire, check office e-mails. So if I couldn't use it, it would be a shame, I'd miss it, but it would be no more of an issue than if the TV went on the blink.

What I didn't appreciate is that the lap top is the boy's primary means of communicating with friends, near and far, and by not having the use of his Dell, I was effectively ostracising him from society. Judging by the reaction I got, summarily chopping off his legs with a bent rusty butter knife would have been less painful and more appropriate. The promises freely given in absolute desperation to keep this device sent me reeling - and the comparison with Ms Winehouse's addiction seems entirley appropriate...I wonder what she would promise for the next hit.

So suddenly the punishment seems somewhat disproportionate to the crime, but I'm not sure of a route back. Supper tonight should be fun...uuurgh

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Do you wanna touch?

"World of Warcraft is the worlds biggest peadophile ring" said the boy when the second episode (?) instalment (?) was announced on the radio news this morning (we wake to either Q radio or Absolute Extreme, so sometimes minor economic or poltical matters get pushed down the agenda). Naturally enough, I coughed and spluttered into my porridge and tried to think of an appropriate reply, but at 7.00am and even before I had my wake up shower, I could manage no more than a "Err, right. Yeah sure."

Somehow, I feel this wasn't the response required, but equally I suspect that I've missed my moment. I certainly would love to know where this playground comment came from.

And who knows, whether he's right or wrong...much of the on-line world is a mystery to me...but having read on the news today that a woman is divorcing her husband after she caught him cheating on her in a 3D virtual world, I have a feeling that I need to be much more on the ball than I am. I did discover that if you child has been using a website called hidemyprivacy.com, then they're probably seeing things or doing things that they shouldn't.

The boy does manage to produce really good grades for his homework even though he seems to be on-line messaging friends with one hand whilst he does a maths equation with the other. So I guess on-line is not all bad for teens...but for a parent it does add another worry, to the already extensive list.

So into battle...

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Schools out

Last night was School House family evening. And a jolly affair it was too. The evening takes the form of a series of performances followed by food and delights, topped off with a rather fabulous fireworks display thanks to Mr and Mrs Patel (evidently).

I was immeasurably impressed by some of the talent...and where the performers lacked talent, they more than made up for it with enthusiasm. I think my X Factor vote went to the Turkish belly dancer, who not only made more than a few middle-aged parents look distinctly uncomfortable - should they watch or should they politely avert their eyes...but also managed to keep move perfect even when the music system decided to give up the ghost. But there were also plenty of excellent pianists, actors, rock bands and soloists (though I couldn't quite go for the admittedly extremely good renditions of songs from The Little Mermaid and Pochahontas).

Inspite of a natural talent for playing the guitar (evidence enough that his musically inept mum and dad are in fact not his parents), the boy had other priorities - running one of the stalls selling sweets (how many should you buy and be seen to be eating before you just can't face another penny chew...).

Loosely speaking, the evening was the themed around around fairytales, so one of the stalls was 'Pin the wings on the err fairy whilst blindfolded' The fairy as it happens was a photo of The Boy which seems to have taken him and his mate about three hours to take at the weekend. Whilst most people couldn't get within a mile of the 'spot', uncannily I managed it straight offf...and for my prize I got (oh no) another sweet. mmm delicious.

His third contribution was giving lessons on his X-board. It seemed to down well, so I kept my "Public liability insurance?" down to a mutter.

Thank heavens for the fabulous fireworks, as our own display on the 5th consisted of no more than half a dozen sparklers in the back garden.

Well that's it...I enjoyed it all.


video

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Friend of Ours

Death and divorce can bring some unlikely friends into your sphere.

And so it was that tonight we went to see Quantum of Solace with Unexpected Friend. In fact we went to see the last 007 movie with him. Unfortunately on that occasion it was a screen we'd never been to before and it turned out to be on a decaying industrial estate in the arse-end of Lee Valley (near to the site of our grand 2012 Olympics) and was preceeded by visiting the next-door themed-eatery that clearly was operated by people that didn't realise that a restaurant should generally serve edible food. Even the 'it's impossible not to get wrongt' Caesar Salad was completely indigestible. This time we went from east to west, ending up in Fulham Broadway, enjoyed a very entertaining movie before retiring to Yo Sushi to eat our fill. All very good.

Unexpected Friend is a nice person...in fact a good friend, and indeed it's always a very pleasent time we have when we see him. And he is the sort of person that I think in times of need we could rely on to provide support.

So that to me is a good friend.

But the thing is, Unexpected Friend was The Boy's Mum's long-term partner after she and I explosively went our separate ways. And without question at the time I was portrayed as the Devil incarnate, so on the few occasions when we came face to face never a word was spoken. He and The Boy's Mum were together for a couple of years I think...and then (explosively) went their separate ways (in the words of the prodigal Godfather..."With her it's always bloody). And of course that had meant that for two years Unexpected Friend was AN IMPORTANT MAN in the boy's life, but after the split he had become one of the disappeared.

Roll on to the time of the funeral and beyond, and he re-appeared. And this was a good thing...I wanted the boy to have as much continuity in his life and felt UF was an important anchor, so have since encouraged the contact. I know the boy was happy with this...UF is a cognescenti of the gadget world..so was able to talk about the things important to a growing lad.

And so it has continued, and I'm very pleased. But here's a strange thing. The boy refuses to make arrangements to see UF and insists it is down to me to do. I've asked why, but I've got no answer to my question. I know the boy likes to see him...and enjoys his company, but is reluctant, or at least hesitant to keep the communication flowing. Quite confusing....

Monday, 3 November 2008

More, more, more (2)

There are some things in life that we can never have too much it seems.

Women, all women love shoes. And bags.

Me, I can never have enough watches (I stopped buying when I realised it was costing me nigh on £150 a year in batteries to keep them ticking). Shoes (yes I'm in touch with my feminine side). Property (I've never been able (willing) to sell when I ought). Bank accounts (or rather overdrafts). And there's plenty more.

Inspite of my best endeavours to teach the boy not to follow in the footsteps of his father, he too is a compulsive acquirer (acquisitionalist?). Hair products...her gel, hair mouse, hair wax, hair spray. All in the cause of teenage vanity. Bags (is he in touch with his feminine side too?)..he always needs a new one. Watches (following in my footsteps, but at least here I can say no). Socks (he has enough to cloth a millipede) but they're always in Brighton when he's in Buckhurst Hill and in Buckhurst Hill when he's in Brighton. Guitars ( I bought him one, he bought him one and step Granddad gave him one). Three seems a lot to me who's never been able to learn an instrument. Books (he has a bigger library now than I had when I'd passed through our educational system) but that's a good thing and I'm always ready to expand my overdraft on this count.

More, more, more (1)

I celebrated a no-small victory this morning. And the reason for my glee was that I had escaped the house without having got into a verbal scrap wih the boy. And that was an achievement. One (endearing) thing he inherited from his mum was the ability to keep gently winding me up for no reason until I wolud snap. I became wise to this early on with the boy's mum, and generally enjoyed the sport which could provide a whole evening's entertainment at a far lower cost than heading down the pub. Almost invariably I would lose...I would just get to the point of thinking I'd won, fending off gentle dig after gentle dig, that I could smugly sit down with a little grin on my face knowing that I'd WON. Only to be caught out by a final glancing comment that would fill the room with a red mist.

Realising that the subtlties of all this will be lost as I've editied out so much...here we go...please have patience...

So the digging started after I had been taxi-driver for Friday night's Halloween party. Are we going to Brighton? Yes, why? No reason. Saturday. When are we off to Brighton? Soon why, do you want to say something? No. 10 minutes later. Oh it's just that some of us are meeting up in Loughton, but it doesn't matter. Are you sure? Yes, it's fine. OK good - you've not been to the south coast for a month. Yes....ur um.

FFWD to Sunday (missing out why it took us four hours to drive to Brighton on Saturday) and a brief visit to Wakehurst Place for a long walk. Sulky bored looks. And it was time to go. Sunday evening. Is it alright to put my rugby kit on for a quick wash. But I've done the washing...has that been festering in your bag for the last two weeks? Yes. Well see what else there is. There's nothing. OK if you're sure. 10 minutes later. What are these underpants on the bathroom floor? Two hours later. I guess I'll put all the towels on to wash now?

FFWD to Monday morning. It's nice to have clean towels isn't it? I don't know, it's been so long.

Grrr

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Justified ancients

I can't help but feel that justice is rarely done...well at least not in the right way anyway. So Russell Brand has resigned, and Jonathan Ross will forfeit a million and a half pounds of not hard-earned cash. Russell Brand I cannot understand how he has achieved fame and fortune because I can detect no talent so I'm glad he's gone Jonathan Ross I've always quite liked...but recently he does seem to have lost touch and just got too full of himself...his Friday night show has been firmly off my watching list for a few weeks now. But it turns out that Georgina Baillie is a porn star...thank you popbitch for that...so it's a shame that there's a twist in the justice being meated out here. I'm so glad to see Andrew Sachs has come out of this as the most fair-minded and dignified of people. He goes high on my list of people I'd love to have lunch with.

In the same way, I was delighted that the judges decided that we are all entitled to do what we like in private providing it's legal, and not have it plastered all over the tabloids. Not that it's something I think I need to worry about. It's just a shame that it was the pretty unsavoury Max Mosely and his even more unsavoury practices which have enshrined this in law.

And now, in possibly the ultimate in irony, Porsche has managed to get one over on the hedge funds which have been the poison coarsing through the veins of western economies for the last decades. For me it's deeply satisfying, but I can't help but feel that it's case of bitng off the hand that feeds you. We shall see.

And back to Mr Sachs. It has only because of this little controversy that I realised that in my head I had managed to confuse said Mr Sachs and Tony Robinson of Baldrick and making holes in the ground fame. I know they're different people...I've always known, but for some reason my brain and merged them. Oh dear.

Oh yes and I still don't understand why so many column inches including the ones above have been devoted to Mr Ross and Mr Brand's puerile behaviour.

Monday, 27 October 2008

My family and other animals









In a break from recent tradition, I've not used a song title to head this post...but then what could be better than a bit of Gerald Durrell - a favourite read when I was knee high to a grass hopper, and also enjoyed by the boy too.

Cyprus is an interesting place for us to visit. On the one hand completely familiar as we're visiting family, but on the other a place which is absolutely foreign in landscape, architecture and culture. We had a fabulous seven days soaking up the sun in temperatures near 30 degrees, and given my avowed dislike of 'beach holidays', I sheepishly have to admit to spending every day on one beach or another.

Going home to mummy, it's a strange feeling to go from being from being Dad head of house to being young son again, even just for a week...I'm not sure the boy noticed I'd turned back to being fifteen, but I certainly appreciated not having to be too grown up for a few days.

Almost as soon as we arrived on a balmy Saturday evening, I realised that my quest for the week was to be to see as many new creatures as possible in this semi-exotic land. On the fence chez Grandma inCyprus was a praying mantis. Clearly, he was praying for me to go away, as my snapping away with camera led him to vacate the premises the next morning, having been in residence for the previous fortnight. Other creatures at the house included a glorious Green Frog, about the size of a match box, which had been eyeing up a tasty (small) mantis for its supper. Unfortunately, we came along and rather disturbed the balance of nature, causing Kermit to leap a couple of meters onto the boy's chest before disappearing over the car and into the bushes. A pair of gorgeous deep red dragon flies spent the week sunbathing by the pool, only flying off to chase away any other trying to challenge their territory. Couldn't think why they spent their time by the pool...it's not as if there was anything in the chlorine-treated water for them to feast on...but each to their own.

Down in the sea, I lost count of the number of brilliantly coloured fish darting in and out of the rocks. We had great fun snorkling around and occasionally throwing some stale bread for them to enjoy...it was an amazing sight to see them swim at a rate of knots to get a nibble. I nearly got knocked down in the rush. My favourites, were - an octopus that spent a couple of days curled up semi-coverd in a hole in a rock before deciding it was time to flee the nest. Amazing how they blend in, and look so ungainly perched on rock, but are so elegant when swimming. Cuttlefish...again amazingly elegant and graceful until they decide you're too close and then turn on the jet propulsion to escape our noseyness. And finally, my sheer joy and glee to be swimming off the beach at the ghost city of Famagusta and to be overtaken by a turtle...sheer magic. I was like a wide-eyed boy in Hamleys the night before Christmas.

Flamingos standing in the lakes near the airport naturally brought to mind the ancient joke of "Why do flamingos stand on one leg? Because if they lifted the other one up, they'd fall over." Well it still made me laugh.

The only creatures I wasn't so keen on were the mosquitoes who came out to dine...my legs were a veritable feast they had saved themselves for. Also perhaps the jelly fish which I accidently stroked gently..it didn't seem to react, so that took the sting out of the situation....

I was saddened, and reminded of my father, one day to be lying on the beach and to have a man with Parkinsons walk past. He had the same far away look on his face, still smiling, but with his arm shaking badly. His companion walked some 25 yards behind him, watching attentively. He spent a long time in the sea, but at one stage he was oblivious to the fact that his swimming trunks had descended to his knees. It worried me that he would follow the same patten as Dad...not a happy journey for anyone to have to face.


The boy overcame his first experience of snorkling last year...without thinking he put on the snorkel and dived down, not realising he would get a gallon on salty water to choke on. This time, he got the benefit of being able to spend loads of time surveying the sea bed for creatures and was rewarded with the sight of some monstrous fish 'leaping' off the sea bed and gobbling up an innocent passer by. mmmm delicious. In fact his joy of being able to swim in such clear, warm waters was such that he took his mobile into the water with him. It was forgotten in his swimming shorts, and fifteen seconds after he dived in, he was shouting "oh no, oh no, oh God no" I thought there was was some nasty trying to get him, and was ready to dive in and fend it off as he stood up and 'fished' the soggy phone out of his pocket. He was distruaght...and I was relieved to the extent that I couldn't help making a joke of it...and reminding him of an occasion on holiday with his mum in Greece five years ago when he'd dived into a swimming pool with Game Boy in the same pocket. The phone is now an 'ex-parrot' as John Cleese might say. Phew that'll save on the bills.

We found some sunken treasure - One Euro which had been lying at the bottom of the sea for long enough for it to be well and truly weathered...

The boy also got on the back of Grandma's scooter with me again...the first time he'd done so since we'd come off my Vespa three and a half years ago..he ended up with a broken foot (I can't spell metatarsal) whilst I walked away unscathed. Still it did make me nervous buzzing around in nothing more than our shorts and T-shirts (and skid lids), when in England we'd never go out in anything less than full body-armout. But hey, that's holidays for you.

Unfortunately we didn't manage the day out on the power boat...a rather unseasonal and definitely uncharitable thunderstorm in the morning, kept us in dock...but sometimes, for whatever reason, these things are not to be. Still the absence of the day trip meant the boy got to spend a few hours jamming on his guitar with neighbour Phil and step-grandad Joe. I've a sneaking suspicion it was the highlight of his week. We also survived an earthquake, evidently, but as I was snoozing at the time I guess I can't say that the earth moved for me.

So now back to the daily routine...brrr it sure is chilly here in Blighty!

Monday, 13 October 2008

Olivers Army

The boy was away this weekend at his first cadet camp. Excitement had been high in the week running up to it, but that didn't mean that he thought to make sure that we had everything that was on his kit list. The net result was a last minute Friday night dash to Waitrose on the way to meet the prodigal uncle for a a celebratory meal at Buckhurst Hil's finest (and actually one of the UK's) Indian restaurants.

This gave me a free weekend. Personal space and time. Hurrah. So what wild things did I get up to? A salacious time at Brighton's seediest night clubs? The chance to catch up with much missed friends, or even family? A gorgeous meal at a great restaurant?

Erm, well no. I headed to Ikea (oh no, not again) to pick up a couple of things (actually, is it possible to ever get out of Ikea with a bill of less than £200...I've never ever achieved that, often picking up stuff that's really not really not needed). After that I headed down to the flat by the sea, achieving precisely nothing all weekend...at least it was a warm and sunny time to do nothing very much on the coast.

I've been planning for when at some stage the boy would fly the nest...university was my target date (and as I've mentioned to him on one or two or several dozen occasions, when he leaves for higher education that is the time that I stop the real job, climb on the, as yet phantom motorcycle, and spread my own wings). And I've also known that as he heads through his teenage years, my role would increasingly be reduced to taxi driver and funds provider. But I hadn't really realised that at the tender age of 13, he would not be around all the time. So this is an unexpected bonus...but I need to change my mindset slightly, open up that little black book of mine and renew old friendships...as well as gallop into a whole set of new ones. Hurrah!

After all I have no intention of spending my middle years watching endless repeats on TV, wearing a hole in the carpet in front of the sofa!

Watching the detectives

I've come to the conclusion that now is the time to be rid of film ratings. I've been wondering for a while...in fact since finding out that when the boy was still at primary school, certain of his friends were allowed by their very well educated parents to watch Quentin Tarantino films...the boy himself was given the opportunity one sleepover to watch a film that gave him nightmares for weeks afterwards.

Mind you these were at the same parents that thought it fine to give the boys bangers to put into bags of flour to see the mess they could make when the went off with a bang. The boy returned home from that little venture with half a dozen bangers in his pocket. He never returned for their hospitality again. So the point being, that if the parents ignore the certficate, then there's not much point having them in the first place.

This year we went to see the latest Batman film...rated a twelve, but in places so menacing, that I think more appropriate for a fifteen/sixteen year old. And just recently I watched Sweeney Todd, which achieved an 18 rating, although the violence was so surreal, that I doubt it could seriously impact on a younger viewer; by contrast, No Country for Old Men is just a 15, yet the violence is menacing and graphic and the emotion behind deeply impactful.

More confusingly is that I've taken the boy to films at the cinema perfectly legally, yet when we've gone to buy the DVD a few months later, it's jumped up a rating, so technically he shouldn't watch it, nor the Playstation game that seeems to accompany every movie masterpiece these days.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Monster Mash


It's just about tthe middle of October, and for the first time not a word has been mentioned about Halloween. And that's a surprise. Usually we have two months of trick or treat planning, with me living in dread of having to be the escort the boy and his friends to make sure that only the right sort of mischief happens. The rot set in I think when we moved to the Forest, where the trick or treat culture was not widely accepted amongst the coiffured Essex parents ( presumably fake blood and rubber masks interfere with golden tans and bleached locks), so it was always a struggle to find accompanying children to terrorise (sorry I mean entertain) the neighbourhood and in any case, knocking on doors could be quite unrewarding in all senses.

Back in deepest, darkest Finsbury Park, it was an annual highlight with every house stuffed full to the gills with sweets and other delights so that a continuous trail of hideously made-up children could be satiated. In fact it was so busy that you could end up queuing at the best houses...it was easy to know which ones to go to as they always had a halloween lamp in the window...I suppose that's much the same as the red lights in the windows of certain houses in Amsterdam (I'm told).

Hopefully though we will still get to carve a pumpkin lamp which is always messy fun...several years ago, we bought a kit from Sainsbury's which had fantastically elaborate templates, and it's been used every year since to create weird and wonderful illuminations which take pride of place in the living room window until eventually they go soft and a little bit smelly.

On the other hand though, perhaps as the boy is now a teen, child like activities should be consigned to the memory bank just like the Disney movies which I no longer get to see (why wouldn't he come with me to see Wall E?). At least there's the DVDs to watch.