Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Personable Hygiene

Nice moment with Tom yesterday.

I had him sitting snugly on my lap while he happily munched his way through a chocolate coin or three.

Now any parent will know that a toddler + chocolate = C3 (Complete Chocolate Chaos). In layman's terms this means an end result that can be likened to an explosion in a chocolate factory. Willy Wonka hit by Jihadi terrorists. Cadbury's merging with Chernobyl. That kind of thing.

So being a wise boy-scout-like father I had a secret weapon stashed behind me: the wet wipe.

The wet wipe is surely the greatest invention of the Twentieth Century (after man-flu). Soft, moist and damned hard to perforate, their uses are multifarious and manifold but let's not go into all that right now.

Seeing that Tom was wearing the equivalent of chocolate gloves I reached sagely for my wet wipe with the speed of a sharpshooter...

Only to find that his hands were suddenly clean and spotless.

I was gobsmacked.

Smart kid. Maybe he'd learnt the art of licking his own fingers - thus cleaning himself and gaining maximum chocolate consumption pleasure?

Hey. I've produced a genius!

And then I saw my trousers...

Like I said. Genius.

Although he didn't say it I'm sure his eyes were mouthing the words: thanks for being there, dad.

*Sigh* No problem, son. No Problem.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Ghost Of Christmas Post

You may (those of you who have not indulged too much in the warm liquid pleasures of mulled wine) recall that before Christmas I was performing a mull of a different sort - no, not Kintyre - but musing on the chances of Tom being ill over Christmas due to the effects of his second MMR vaccination.

Well, true to form Tom became very grouchy over Christmas Eve and steadily worsened as the evening drew on. Nothing too serious I'm relieved to say but it did mean Karen and I were extremely lucky if we managed 3 hours sleep that night... which made for a very blurry eyed, barely human Christmas day the morning after.

I must admit I was a zombie for much of the day and seemed to spend much of it trying to distract Tom with all the new toys that he wasn't at all in the mood to enjoy. Ho hum. Despite that though it was a good day. I suspect that when I look back on it the stress and worry over Tom will magically disappear and instead all will be basked in a tinsel glow of chicken cooked in goose fat and marvellous giftage of the superlative sort. Selective memory is a grand thing.

Thankfully Tom's reaction only lasted 24 hours and after a good night's sleep for us all on the 25th Boxing Day dawned bright and sunny and it felt like Christmas had finally arrived - a day late but no matter. Tom had a few presents left unwrapped and piled into them with gusto. That's the spirit!

The rest of managed a good haul too. Ben received a Nintendo DS - and has virtually had his nose pushed into it's shiny smooth screen since unwrapping it 2 days ago. The silence is a real novelty.

I showered my wife (steady, boys!) with gifts a-plenty including a fabulous peredot necklace, choice DVDs and books to entertain, educate and delight.

And as for yours truly... well... Some of you may recall a post from earlier this year. Namely this one.

Yup. You guessed it. I got it.

The term "happy bunny" springs to mind.

My wife is simply the best. And I'll fight any man, woman or reindeer who says otherwise.

God I love Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Turn Back Your Christmas Siege Engines

God knows I’ve never encouraged an “open door” ethos at the best of times but there is something about Christmas which makes me want to bolt and triple lock the front door with even more fervour than I do on the other 364 days of the year.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not being curmudgeonly just for the heaven of it – it’s just that there is something about Christmas which makes me want to “shut up shop” socially and just hibernate with my loved ones in the back of the cave... a nice roaring fire on the go, presents around the tree and good food all around. Peace and goodwill to everyone else undoubtedly and very generously... but preferably over there away from me and mine and no I don’t want to come out wassailing or drop in on people for a Christmas drink or (even worse) be dropped in on by guests that I have to crowbar out of the front door several hours later several hundred mince pies the poorer.

Am I being unreasonable? Inhumane? Has the spirit of Christmas turned white at the sight of my soul and fled across the county border in search of a host more warm and receptive?

Possibly. But I believe I am motivated by the best of reasons. A desire to savour my family in a fashion unadulterated by even the most feather light of touches from the outside world.

I mean, I have to deal with the world for every other day of the year and the world has to deal with me. Isn’t a break for us both at Christmas the ideal Christmas gift?

And it’s not like I’m wishing anyone ill. Sure, there are a few people who deserve to have their Christmas puddings laced with semtex and their Christmas stockings lined with poison tipped barbed wire but... not at Christmas, eh? Tis the season to be jolly. Peace and goodwill to all men, etc. Plenty of time in the New Year for pre-emptive strikes.

For now I just want to listen to the sounds of little hands ripping wrapping paper and the “Wows” and cries of “Oh I’ve always wanted this” as my wife opens her new frying pan and matching non-stick oven gloves (only joking, dear) and know that my defensive walls and moat aren’t being misconstrued by the other members of my species with whom I share this wonderful planet.

Cos I love you all. I really do.

And so what can I add but - God bless you all and hope you all have a very Merry Christmas!

And please don’t step on the front lawn. It’s mined.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

When Heroes Grow Old

Heroes Unmasked was of double interest to me last night as not only did it preview the season finale of Heroes (due for UK broadcast next week) but also focused on Wendy and Lisa, the delicious duo who long ago were musical compadres of Prince and now score all of the incidental and theme music for Heroes.

I’ve long been a fan – from the early Revolution days, through Purple Rain and Prince’s purple patches and finally during their last incarnation as independent pop duo “Wendy & Lisa”. If I’m honest I still play their solo (duo?) albums on my MP3 player but then I’ve always been an eighties head at heart anyway.

But enough about my confused biology...

As the narrator introduced the theme for the night’s analysis they kindly cut to a clip of Wendy and Lisa grooving their funk-thang on TOTP – early nineties by my reckoning – all gorgeously teased hair, cheekbones, curvy hips and tight bouncing tops... how they enticed the eye even as they pleasured the ear... my excitement was mounting.

And then we were presented with the lovely ladies as they are today.

I feel down-right mean for saying this but they looked old.

I mean they looked “old” – not just older. Maybe it was the appalling light in their studio but they didn’t appear to have aged well.

I apologise. I don’t know why. I just feel the need to. For making such an uncharitable observation. I feel I’m being somehow mean spirited and disloyal. And I’m being grossly unfair. Their heyday was 20 years ago for God’s sake – what did I expect? I ought to be proud that they’ve spurned the cosmetic surgery route and have decided to stay au naturale. To stay real. They always were “real women” – it was part of the attraction.

And – let’s be honest – I’m no spring chicken myself. More like a leathery turkey. Old age is already digging its gnarled claws into my once plump and youthful flesh. I’m getting white hair all over the place these days (but enough about my bizarre biology)... Minor cuts are taking longer to heal... I’m grinding my teeth when I sleep... I go all sentimental when I hear Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”...

It’s surely a case of the pot calling the kettle black?

And despite the wrinkles, despite the jowls, Wendy and Lisa have still got it for me. The old (no pun intended) spark is still there. So we wouldn’t go out partying anymore – what does it matter? So Wendy wouldn’t tease my bod with her quirky guitar licks – so what? There’s nothing wrong with a nice frappuccino in a quiet, downtown coffee house. And bowls, so I’ve been led to believe, is a fabulous sport. Hell, I may even enjoy a bus tour to an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical...!

Sigh. So it’s come to this: Wendy and Lisa have mutated in my mind from teen-hood fantasy girlfriends into imaginary aunties...


But if that’s how the cookies crumble, I guess I’ve just got to embrace it and move with the times... (now where did I put my pension book?)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


People’s attitudes to vaccinations never fail to amaze me.

Tom went for his second MMR jab yesterday and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t overtaken with feelings of trepidation and anxiety for most of the day. Although the benefits hugely outweigh the risk this is nevertheless my own flesh and blood I’m talking about – not a faceless statistic – and the fears, no matter how small, become magnified by emotion.

The nurse told us that he could become “grouchy” over the next 72 hours (give him Calpol), he may develop a measles rash in 5 days time (give him Calpol) and in ten days time he may develop a rubella rash (great, just in time for Christmas – give him Calpol). Or he may have no reaction at all.

Hmm. On the whole it’s not a great prospect for the Christmas holidays but so much better than the alternative.

I had measles when I was 7 and it knocked me off my feet – quite literally – for 3 weeks. I couldn’t stand up unaided. I spent 7 days unconscious. It’s a truly horrible disease and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone let alone my 14 month old son. If I can beef up his resistance to such a nasty disease I’ll do it and very gladly.

But weirdly one of Karen’s friends is dead set against giving her kids any kind of immunization and has already said that she’d prefer her son to catch the actual measles disease and develop immunity the “natural way”. She thinks that, if properly managed, measles is easy to cope with and easy to nurse.

Karen and I were, if we’re honest, horrified.

People seem to forget or just be in pure ignorance of the fact that measles is a killer. They seem to be unaware of just how much infant mortality rates have dropped in the West because of immunization programmes over the last 100 years. Our kids enjoy the luxury – and it is a luxury – of good health and a relatively disease free existence because of organized inoculations. Fact. Without them I dread to think how may of our kids wouldn’t make it all the way to adulthood.

I realize there’s been lots of bad press and misinformation regarding the MMR jab but, really, the right information is all around and easy to come across if you look for it. It’s not difficult to make an informed decision.

But there’s the rub. This person thinks they are making an informed decision. And at the end of the day the decision is hers to make. I must add that this person is a fantastic mother – very forward thinking and not at all locked into an idea of mediaeval parenthood – but her stance regarding vaccination puzzles and troubles me.

If you have a choice between giving your kid a mild, carefully controlled dose of a disease to build up their immune system or giving them the full-blown, potentially fatal version of the disease to do the same isn’t it logical and far saner to go for the mild version? The end result is identical if all goes well but the two journeys could be vastly different.

You also, of course, run the risk of infecting other children by letting them develop the full blown version of measles – a factor that is completely eliminated with the jab. Another plus in its favour.

So surely there’s no real decision to make?

Sometimes it’s right that science interferes with and combats nature. The glamour of being a Luddite must surely fade when you’ve got a priest standing above you reading the last rites...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Double Acts

Two workmen engaged on a job will get it completed in half the time, right?


I know this for a fact because, in my normal line of duty, I have had copious experience of dealing with both the lone contractor and the contractor who brings his mate along to help.

The lone contractor is your friend. Fact. He’s on his own, he wants to get the job done as quickly as possible and get out of your hair with the minimum of fuss and mess. Which is exactly what you want too. Perfect. I feel an inordinate sense of relief when a lone contractor turns up.

Not so when “the comedy duo” turn up.

You see a workman and a workman’s mate will always see themselves as a comedy double act. A Bit Of Fry And Laurie. Baddiel and Skinner. Morecombe and Wise if they’re both of the older generation. Never French and Saunders for some reason – but maybe that’s a gender thing.

And they will see it as their sole purpose in life to entertain you and whoever is hanging around in the office for the duration of their visit. The job will take twice as long to complete because they will inevitably distract each other. They can’t help it.

The main workman will be the guy actually doing the job while his mate will merely sit nearby, pass the occasional adjustable spanner and be the fall-guy for all the comedy gold that his partner is endlessly spouting.

And they’ll have a pre-prepared script. Little stock phrases that they’ll wheel out for the benefit of those who are in ear-shot. I guarantee that their performance will include some if not all of the following:

“See what I have to put up with?”

“You should see him on a bad day.”

“You can’t get the staff these days.

“It keeps him out of trouble / off the streets.”

“Feel this if you don’t believe me.”

“Swings and roundabouts, mate, swings and roundabouts.”

“His mother dropped him on his head as a baby.”

“I could do it but I can’t guarantee it’ll be a permanent fix.”

“I won’t bore you with all the technical details.”

“You don’t have to be mad to do this job [pause for a single heartbeat] but you do.”

They’ll also employ a fine selection of sharp intakes of breath that range dramatically in length, pitch and sibilance and thus allow you to gauge the cost of the repair accordingly.

Their banter is invariably worse (i.e. more intense and infinitely louder) if women with breasts are in the vicinity. A little cleavage will see their body posture attempt to emulate that of freshly waxed 1970’s muscle men whilst paradoxically deepening the amount of darkly furry bum crack that they have on show. They will also lie about in strangely contorted positions as they attempt to reach the necessary bit of pipe work / electrical conduit and allow their beer guts to roll around on the carpet like separate legless animals made out of tripe. This is naturally a vastly effective mating display and inevitably has the heavily breasted ladies of the office positively drooling into their Tipp-ex. Or possibly gagging. One of the two.

They will also trick you into making them a free cup of tea by employing a gag straight out of On The Buses or some other down-at-heel British comedy film of yore.

“What’s the name of that little thing that you put golf balls on?”

“A tee?”

“Ooh lovely, milk and two sugars in mine, please.”

Doh. How can I possibly defend myself against such forceful rapier like wit?

It strikes me that life must be fine indeed for the workman with a workman’s mate. You swan around all day thinking you’re Ronnie Barker. Curvy office ladies adore you. You get to handle the odd spanner or three and you sup all the free tea you can slosh into your voluminous belly. And you get paid vast amounts of money for taking 2 hours to do a 10 minute job.


Hmm. I need to get me a beer gut and a comedy partner all of my very own...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

TV In A Coma (I Know, I Know It’s Serious)

As any cable subscriber will tell you television reception can be, at times, akin to a half shaken Etch A Sketch – a frozen mosaic of tiny squares with accompanying aural effects that sound remarkably close to Colonel Bogey being played under water by an asthmatic tuba lover.

Not so much oompah oompah as plain old bah.

This doesn’t happen often (t’otherwise nobody would pay for a cable service, would they?) but round where I live one sudden shock of cold weather is enough to make Virgin Media’s cable technology huddle up in a foetal position and refuse to play technological ball.

I’m sure Mr Branson would blame other adverse catalysts such as high tech mismatches of information packets and misdirected routings of fibre optic data but between you and me: it’s the cold. A bit of frost and News 24 resembles a kid’s finger painting. I’m so glad I invested in a widescreen TV.

Such a denial of service occurred on Sunday. No kid’s telly. No Dave. No UKLiving. No Catchup TV. Nothing.

Things looked glum for all of ten minutes.

And then we rediscovered the various and multifarious delights of (a) silence (b) music and (c) books.

It was amazing. Without the TV cracking its whip the day opened up into vast pastures of possibility. Suddenly time itself seemed to expand and cast off the shackles of enforced half hour slots of no-brainer entertainment. The day was pregnant with opportunity.

It made me realize how television – for all it can be a marvellous educational aid – also prevents you from thinking ‘outside the box’ (if you’ll pardon the pun). As soon as it is switched on the day seems to be mapped out and segmented according to what the various TV channels are broadcasting. You totally forget the many other home comforts that are available to enhance your living experience.

For most of Sunday we enjoyed a little quiet island of TV-less bliss.

Thanks to the efforts of the Virgin Media engineers the TV returned to life at the end of the day all mended and functioning normally... but, I have to say, looking a little bit nervous. A little bit insecure around the edges.

You see, we hadn’t missed it. We’d coped. We’d realized we could survive without it.

There was a New World Order.

The seeds of a comfortable rebellion have been sown...

Monday, December 08, 2008

Hello I’m A Recorded Message

We’ve all received these calls.

They usually ring at the weekend, mostly at meal times or when you are feeling stressed (how do they know?), trying to juggle preparing a meal for the kids, finalizing household paperwork and doing the hoovering – and I have never yet stayed on the line long enough to hear what they are actually offering me or what I have supposedly “won”.

Even before you hear the voice you can tell that it’s a recorded message. I’m not sure what it is – a slight buzz of white noise, a breeze of tinny static, the complete absence of real 3D background atmosphere... and then that first formal “hello” pierces the unreal silence. Devoid of all emotion – no warmth, no enthusiasm – all the personality of a 1980’s chess computer.

You just know that the poor sap paid to record the message was forced to do so in a darkened room. Cut off from all human contact, not even a copy of Heat magazine to keep him company and remind him that he was part of the human race, he forgot that he was flesh and blood, that he had a heart. And he was forced to say the words over and over again until he was word perfect. Over and over again until the words lost their meaning and became abstract sounds. A series of yowls and glottal stops. Dark noise.

Which is why I find such calls not just annoying but also deeply insulting.

They can’t even be bothered to pay for a real human being to talk to me – to interact with me. To sit there politely while I tell them to eff off because I don’t want to change my mobile phone or buy some central heating or even install new conservatory windows into my home. Instead they let a faceless, soulless computer that has vampirically absorbed a man’s voice do the talking.

Now I don’t as a rule make a habit out of talking to machines. Well. That’s not strictly true. I do sometimes talk to my computer and very occasionally I’m even polite but, given a choice, if I have to talk to someone or something I wouldn’t choose a machine that is incapable of registering a vocal response.

You see, you can’t even tell these recorded messages to sod off with any degree of satisfaction because the machine is so beyond caring it won’t even shrug, it won’t flush brightly with embarrassment – it won’t feel hurt or ashamed at having to do such a crappy, utterly pointless job – a job that can only provoke loathing and hatred in its target recipients.

All you can do is put the phone down. You don’t even slam it. There’s no point. There’s no one there to feel the heat of your anger. You’re denied that one essential outlet.

How dare they!

At least have the decency to face the music! At least have the courage to take the verbal assault that has been aroused.

I know, I know. There are lists you can join, opt-out databases that will remove your phone number from any possibility of junk / spam infiltration but it’s a fag and why the hell should I?

One last thing: what kind of business man even thinks that cold calling people with a recorded message is going to be a successful marketing campaign anyway? I don’t know of one person that listens for longer than 3 seconds. There’s always that fear in the back of your mind that the call is a scam and you are being charged £150 a second just to listen to some nasally goon bluster his way through a shoddy, independent radio station sales script.

They cannot possibly make a single sale or a single penny.

What is the point?

If such a business man is out there reading this then the old adage definitely holds true:

Don’t call me. I’ll call you...

“Hello. This is a recorded message. You are most definitely being charged for this call.“

Friday, December 05, 2008

Christmas Hare

I’ve been caught napping yet again.

Like something out of one of Aesop’s legendary fables I commenced Christmas Shopping in late October with the speed of the Hare: off from the blocks at 90 mph, kicking up enough dust and tinsel to give the elf’s in Santa’s workshop chronic asthma and with a cast iron certainty that this year I would win the race well ahead of the pack for sure.

But you know how it goes.

Online shopping is so easy. One morning of pulverizing the plastic and it’s practically all done. Got the wife sorted. Got the kids mostly sorted. Just a few items leftover that you actually have to go outside and proper shop for.

But there’s plenty of time. Christmas is months away. I’m tired now. I’ll just take a quick nap underneath this tree and then I’ll be off again in no time. Relax. That tape is as good as breasted.

And then you wake up and Christmas is just 19 days away. Mere weeks. And all the Tortoises who have been plodding away slowly but constantly are now well ahead of you. They’ve already bought and written all their Christmas cards. They’ve already got their wrapping paper bought and their presents already wrapped. They’ve already posted all their stuff well ahead of the rush for the post boxes and the last Christmas delivery slots. They’ve already cleared the shelves of all the good stuff before you even set foot inside the store.

So now the panic is setting in. Every year I do this – end up playing Christmas chicken and doing everything at the last minute – and always swear that next year I’ll be more organized and get it all finished well ahead of time.

Yeah right. And maybe next year I’ll get this sheep’s clothing to fit me as well...

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

But For The Grace

I’ve been suffering from bear-with-a-sore-head syndrome for the last few weeks.

Not without cause I hasten to add: illness (still got a dodgy tummy), essays due in at Uni, the mad pre-Christmas rush to get loose ends tied up at work, my novel’s ground to a temporary standstill as other priorities take over, Tom has had a permanent head cold since starting at nursery which often leads to broken sleep for all of us, money worries, Christmas stress...

I believe the phrase is “at low ebb”.

But there are times when I am reminded of how damned lucky I am. My best mate’s youngest son is constantly in and out of hospital – some kind of chromosome defect has left him with poor eyesight, poor hearing, an inability to retain his balance and a host of other problems. He’s going to be in and out of hospital for the rest of his life I suspect. He’s only 5 and has already had it tougher than most.

Then there was the news item on TV this morning. Something like 10% of children in the UK are now thought to be subject to some kind of abuse – most of it carried out at home by family members.

I looked at Tom, sitting in his feeding chair, munching on a Malted Milk biscuit as yet another green line of snot wormed its way down to his biscuit encrusted top lip and I gave him a big hug. I got a “yum” back but this was probably a comment on the biscuit rather than the hug.

Life ain’t so bad.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Words Or Music?

I’m not sure where this post has come from but whilst pottering around the house over the weekend I had a sudden flashback to a Manic Street Preachers' gig I attended about a decade ago. Back when I was cool ‘n’ hip ‘n’ energized enough to actually go out in the evening and pay to watch live music being performed.

I was at the bar soaking up the pre-gig atmosphere, feeling a bit like I was too old (already) to be patronizing this kind of gig-going malarkey when my annoyance with my fellow gig-goers reached an all time high.

Now, you don’t need to know much about the Manic Street Preachers – just that that one of their songs (Design For Life) featured the refrain “We don’t talk about love / We only want to get drunk”.

It’s a painful, sorrowful protestation of working class chauvinism – an expression of the tragedy of men whose emotions have been stunted by class ethics and their upbringing. It’s a truly sad song.

And this synopsis is pretty evident from the lyrics, I think.

And yet.

And yet there were a little gang of meatheads at the bar – tanked up on cheap cider served in plastic tumblers – who were swaying arm-in-arm football terrace style singing the above lyrics like it was a glorious celebration.

“We don’t talk about love / We only want to get drunk!”

The sneer on my face held back an avalanche of bile. I didn’t order a drink. I turned around and left them to it. It spoiled the night for me. And the song. I can’t listen to it now without being reminded of the utter stupidity of those buffoons at the bar. So stupid that they couldn’t even see that they were the ones the tragedy of the song was addressing.

But maybe my problem is one of snobbery? I love words – poetry, lyrics, prose. I’m happy to analyse and mull it all over; make connections, be inspired. For me the words are easily as important – if not more important sometimes – than the music. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good tune, a beautiful melody. But I like it to mean something. I like the lyrics to speak to me, to connect with me.

Not everybody is like that. For some people the lyrics to a song are just a handy way to commit the tune to memory; a way to get a handle on the song’s internal timing so that it can be sung along to. A bit of nut and boltery. A few la-la-la’s strung together to augment the chord changes of the guitars or the synths. The last thing they want to do is to have to think about the issues the song might be exploring. To feel challenged and have their consciences prodded.

I guess everybody is different and I need to accept that. I need to stifle the grimaces when some idiot misinterprets, or worse, dismisses the lyrics of songs that I love. As long as my life is enriched why should I care about theirs? It’s not my responsibility.

But what about you? Do you like the lyrics to be pregnant with meaning or are you happy just be-bopping yourself into oblivion on the disco floor?

Confess. I promise not to judge.