Sunday, August 30, 2009

Call Social Services!

It has been intimated this week that I am a bad parent. That my adherence to the rule that my eldest son tidies his room once a week is evidence that I do not love him and that I would rather put him through extreme trauma than nurture him as a proper father should.

Maybe I am over simplifying things (Lord knows there is enough of that around)... but I received some comments on my previous post that genuinely upset and offended me.

Now, it is not my intention to start a blogging war but I am upset enough to cast this debate open to my "wider audience". Because, who knows? Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am being over sensitive? Maybe I am reading things into the comments that are just not there? But I would genuinely be interested to hear other people's take on things.

If the thought of tidying his room makes my son have tantrums should we persist in such a rule? Does his possible aspergers diagnosis mean that different rules should be applied? Should we avoid all scenarios that he dislikes and completely avoid any possible upset and cause for tantrum?

I'm going to keep this post short as your response to it will very much depend on you reading the last 11 comments or so on the previous post. Now some of you may know the other blogger involved. Some of you may not. Either way I would ask that comments are kept polite and respectful and I apologize if there are any divided loyalties. But, in this case, I feel the issue is of more importance that the individual bloggers.

Thank you.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Karen and I are off for the week enjoying another money saving Staycation holiday. Rather than just laze about (which, let’s face it, is what any normal person would do) we’ve elected to give the house something of a cleaning blitz.

Shampoo the carpets. De-web and de-mould the windowsills. That kind of thing.

It’s a big job and trying to do it with 2 very active children makes it harder still. After all a 2 year old does not appreciate the dictat of not walking on a freshly shampood carpet for a couple of hours until it is dry. And the 8 year old doesn’t give a damn; making a rendezvous with his PlayStation is of a much higher priority.

It is stressful, all this “deep pore” cleaning. And I can now appreciate why my mother used to get so irrate with me and my two sisters on “hoover days” during the summer holidays.

My mother would, without fail, hoover the house twice a week. Mondays would be a “light” day – sitting room and hall only. But Fridays would be the big “all over” day. Upstairs and downstairs. The whole Shebang.

There is something about adults performing cleaning chores that, I swear, just makes kids behaviourally uncooperative. We’d inevitably play up and earn the short, quick arm of my mother’s temper. If we were particularly bad a phone call to my Nan would be in order and she’d speak to us on the phone. Never to tell us off. I don’t think I ever saw or heard my Nan angry but the shame of knowing my Nan felt the slightest disappointment in us was usually enough to bring us all back into line.

God, but I wish she was still alive and on the other end of the phone today.

With the carpets shampood yesterday we all elected to go outside for the afternoon. For the little one this is actually a bonus. He loves being outside in the garden. Rain or snow he loves it. The 8 year old, however, has more of an ambivalent attitude. The garden is great in theory but he’d much rather be inside plugged into his PlayStation or his Nintendo DS.

Except he managed to break the latter in a horrendous fit of temper on Sunday evening.

Every Sunday he has but one chore to perform:

Clean his room.

And, my God, is it a performance. A 2 hour job (at the most) usually ends up taking over the whole day and the whole house. Karen and I have to put more energy into getting him to do it than the job itself would actually take if we were to do it ourselves. But there is a principal at stake here so we persist.

There will be tantrums. There will be wailing. There will be gnashing of teeth. There will be shouting. There will be playing with his toys rather than just tidying them away. There will be miniscule attempts at cleaning and then a million “tea breaks” to recover. And then there will be naggings to get on with the job and get it finished and then the whole cycle will start all over again.

Usually the threat of “no gaming” until the room is tidy ensures the job is eventually completed. With the absence of my Nan on the end of the phone it is the only and best alternative.

This Sunday, however, was different. This Sunday he was told he’d be banned from the DS unless he tidied his room. He said he’d done it and promptly started playing. When we checked we found that the sneaky little so-and-so had merely covered the mess up with his duvet. So gaming was duly banned.

This was when the temper kicked in. And I mean Temper. We’re talking Zeus hurling flaming thunderbolts. We’re talking The Incredible Hulk throwing Chieftain tanks into massive military fuel dumps. Two large tubs of Lego got overturned – 1000+ pieces all over the floor. And then the DS got thrown across the room. £120 quid’s worth of kit broken in a fit of pique.

Karen and I were not impressed. My Nan would have been speechless.

We cannot afford to replace such equipment willy-nilly. So the boy is now Nintendo-less.

The boy of course was distraught. And showed it by having an even bigger tantrum. And then realizing he’d be spending the next 24 hours picking up ALL the Lego from his room before he’d be allowed the ameliorative powers of the PlayStation had another even bigger tantrum.

This was Sunday. And Monday. And part of Tuesday.

The Lego wasn’t completely tidied away until yesterday afternoon after 2 days of sheer hell. Tantrums, complaints, shouts and more attempts at merely concealing the mess rather than actually cleaning it properly.

Karen and I are both exhausted.

Apparently the 8 year old is only possibly on the “borderline of the Aspergers spectrum” according to our local GP.

Christ. I pity those parents with kids who have the full blown version.

The carpet of my mind now needs a deep clean. My mind needs a shampoo.

A good scrub all over please someone.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Didn’t You Get My Message?

Read receipts.

Evidence of extreme efficiency or a level of neurosis that should be treated with industrial strength horse tranquilizers?

I only ask because I received an email this week that bullied me into sending a read receipt when I opened it, prodded me to send another receipt when I closed it and then poked me to send yet another when I deleted the damned thing.

It wasn’t even an important email. The message was totally banal.

The security of this nation did not depend on me reading this email. Neither were billions of pounds in global investments riding on its arrival in my Inbox.

Why the panic? Why would someone give a shit about me deleting it?

Did they erupt into hysterical sobs when they got that particular receipt? He... he deleted it?! He deleted it! I can’t believe it! How could he do such a thing...? Is the originator of the email going to be found hanging from a lampshade in their office, life extinguished by the plastic flex to the kettle? Is their death going to be on my hands?

I don’t want this responsibility.

I just want to receive emails and delete them without having to account for my actions. After all, once they’re in my Inbox they’re mine and I can do what I bloody well like with them. I’ll delete them, forward them, reply to them – sometimes even maliciously modify them – as and when I see fit.

Who invited the email Nazi’s to the party anyway?

I mean when you post a letter to someone you don’t ring them up and ask have you opened it yet? Do you? You don’t demand to know if they’ve binned the envelope or worse still run the letter through the shredder. Why all this panic about emails?

Plainly it is a case of some kind of inferiority / superiority complex. I send you an email and refuse to relinquish control of it. I demand to know every stage of its journey and I demand to know exactly what you do with it. Because I refuse to be ignored. You will acknowledge my email. You will acknowledge the reading and the deleting of it. You will acknowledge me, me, me and the power I have over you.


The sender has requested a read receipt be sent when the message is read. Do you want to send a receipt? Yes / No.


No. No. Effing no.

I think you’ll find that it is me – me, me, me – who truly has the power...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

May I Orate Your Meal For You?

For my birthday last week Karen took me out for a fabulous lunch time meal at the Leamington branch of Café Rouge.

We’ve been to Café Rouge a number of times and for a restaurant chain they’re pretty damned good. Decent food, decent atmosphere and decent service. I’ve got no complaints.

But it’s a pity they don’t vet their clientele a little more.

We’d just despatched the starter when a young couple sat down at the table behind us. Graduate types. Young go-getters that type of thing.

The woman was fine. Softly spoken, quite sensible and socially sensitive from what I could hear. So quite what she was doing with Mr Soapbox Hooray Henry I don’t know.

He had one of those voices that could be used to drive ailing ships away from hidden coastal reefs. Imagine a rutting gnu that can enunciate in clear Home Counties English and you’re pretty much there.

Couple this natural propensity for volume with a youthfully inaccurate belief that everything – and I mean everything – he had to say had to be heard by everyone else within a 5 mile radius and you can imagine how the delicately romantic conversation that was taking place between me and Mrs Bloggertropolis was constantly peppered with the blunderbuss protestations from Mr Everybody Listen To Me.

“Oh ya, my last girlfriend, she just wanted too much from me, you know? Too much emotional stuff. The sex was great but I had to let her go... only thing I could do... I sometimes miss her but not much...”

“Ya, I’ve just come back from Africa... got off with a lovely girl there... blonde... very blonde, not a local girl... all my girlfriends are blonde in fact... I only ever go for blondes... white and blonde...”

“And the groom was like: I’d never known what love was until I met my wife and I was like, Oh God, this is atrociously wet, let’s hope the best man’s speech is better and then he stood up and was all like: ya, I’d never seen true love before until I saw these two together... and it was like awful, worse wedding ever, thank God for the free booze!”

A real charmer right? As it was he’d already blown his chances of getting into his female’s friend’s knickers in the first few seconds of their conversation with this absolutely classic opener:

“You’re looking really well – have you recently lost weight?”

By the end of the meal, his gargantuan sound bites had become the unasked for entertainment for a number of tables in our part of the restaurant and many a mirthful look was exchanged between complete strangers and ourselves as we masticated our dauphinoise potatoes.

He, however, was in complete ignorance. Which amazed me. How could he not realize how loud he was being? I’d be mortified if I thought I was being that boorish. I’m sure we’ve all done the youthful thing of recounting a joke or an anecdote a little too loudly in the mistaken belief that it’s comedy gold and a passing television producer might be in the vicinity who will want to push television stardom our way... but to roar an entire conversation?

Is there such a thing as the Town Crier gene?

Would I have been totally out or order if I’d performed an emergency tracheotomy with a fish fork?

Shout your answers to me from wherever you are; the Poulet Suprême au Roquefort is far too quiet for my taste.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Load Of Rubbish

Just over a week ago I had the misfortune of being called out in the early hours of Sunday morning to attend a fire alarm activation at my place of work. I didn’t get away again until 7 am.

Seeing the windy streets of Leamington Spa at this time in the morning as I wended my way home was something of a revelation.

Or rather like something out of Revelations.

I don’t think I have ever seen so much rubbish and stomach lining spread over so much surface area of one town before.

It looked like someone had disemboweled a rubbish cart at 15,000ft and let the contents fall to earth in a 10 mile radius.

It was horrendous. Chip paper. Newspaper. Polystyrene burger cartons. Styrofoam cups. Half chewed chips and chicken nuggets. Shredded lettuce. The ubiquitous McDonalds paper bag. The entire gherkin crop of Bulgaria. All of it knee-deep.

I swear I saw pigeons re-enacting the trash compactor scene from Star Wars.

Worst of all though was the vomit.

We are talking vast, half congealed porridgy oceans of the stuff.

And it was multicoloured.

My worst encounter was under the seat of the bus shelter right outside the Parish Church. It was pink with red bits in it, flecked with the odd strangulated shard of green. Someone had either thrown up a chicken tikka or had crawled home minus their entire stomach and the taste of their lower intestines dissolving on their tongue like a rubbery alka seltzer.

If this is the morning after the night before I’m glad I no longer frequent pubs or go out drinking as a social pastime.

What disgusting selfish creatures we are.

All this waste. All this mess. And it probably happens every Thursday / Friday / Saturday night of every week of every year in most towns across the Western world.

Here are major contributions towards global warming for you. Here are carbon footprints that smell as bad as they look.

As I picked my way home through the detritus the litter pickers and street cleaners were already hard at work picking, sifting, lifting and hoovering up the evidence of a single night’s pleasure seeking.

I felt sorry for them. Sorry that such thankless work is plainly necessary.

Oh I know it gives them a job. A friend of mine once threw litter quite deliberately onto the street and justified it by saying "it gave someone a job and allowed them to earn a living”.

Well, as I said at the time, such a stupid argument could also be used to justify rape, child abuse and murder but I’m sure the police and the support workers and the attendant counsellors would all rather be doing something else if they could ever express a choice about it.

Forget dubious employment opportunities, what this billowing carnage said to me was the majority of our species just don’t have any true thought or respect for their own environment or the people they share it with. That maybe too many of us justify appalling behaviour and antisocial activity under the guise of “just having a laugh” and “just having a drink after a hard week at work”.

That maybe going out and getting yourself absolutely twatted on a Saturday night is not so much an innocent way to let off steam and de-stress but a way of proclaiming to the world that you really just don’t give a toss about anyone or anything that exists outside your own little sphere of beer-goggled selfishness.

What a load of utter garbage.

Our street cleaners are unsung heroes.

We’d all be dead or dying of cholera, typhoid and bubonic plague by now if not for their sterling efforts.

Gentleman and ladies of the broom, I salute you.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Life Begins

At forty apparently.

I’ve heard this expression a number of times over the last 24 hours. My birthday yesterday has, of course, provoked, a number of responses from my friends which have ranged from “you’re only as old as the woman you feel” to “you poor old bugger”. I’m not sure in what light either of these apply to my wife.

By far though the most common has been “life begins at forty” or even (in-line with current fashion) “forty is the new twenty”.

Well, I certainly hope not as my twenties were absolutely crap. However this had little to do with my age and more to do with my wallflower attitude to life. I’m pleased to say I’m a bit more assertive and “go-getting” these days. So who knows? Maybe life begins will prove to be rather apt after all?

I certainly don’t feel any different. By different I, of course, mean decrepit and dysfunctional.

I don’t suddenly feel the full horrid weight of my forty years pressing down on me like a huge millstone of wasted opportunity and misdemeanour. My legs are not suddenly bowed with the sheer tonnage of my life up to his point.

No more than is normal for a full time working dad of two writing a novel in his spare time anyway.

But then it hasn’t really sunk in.

40? 40?

It’s just a number at the moment. I keep having to tell myself that it applies to me because mentally it’s just not sticking.

It took me a whole year to get used to being 39 so I doubt that 40 will be any different.

I’ll admit I’ve had a passing thought that maybe, just maybe it’s now time for me to grow up a bit and start acting more sensibly.

But then my next thought was yah-boo sucks to that.

I think being 40 is going to be a cinch.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Troublefone

It has been a black weekend with the telephone.

Normally it sits – not exactly loved but tolerated – on a shelf in the corner of the room and disturbs us but rarely. A polite ring every Friday evening from my mother to stay in touch. The odd call from work that may elicit a sigh or two. On occasion, when the phone is being a very naughty boy, it allows call centres to sneak through and sully my family quality time. On such occasions it gets a curled lip as its reward and its receiver banged down unceremoniously into its cradle.

Bad phone. BAD phone!

This weekend though it became a true delinquent. I’ve lost count of how many times it rang and always, always, always with crap news:

My granddad had a mini collapse on Friday and has ended up in hospital with diarrhea...

A false fire alarm activation early Sunday morning saw me stuck at work from 02.30 am to 07.30 am...

We were then plagued by endless phone calls after these events from people chasing their own tails for "more up-to-date information..."

A seemingly endless klaxon of ringing.

So not a lot of sleep was had over the weekend.

I returned home Sunday morning like a zombie, in time for breakfast and to find the kids were already up and bouncing off the walls.

Trying to catch up on sleep was a joke.

Every time I tried to chill and get my head down the phone would go yet again with more updates about my granddad or work colleagues enquiring about the fire alarms.

The phone seemed to sense just when my eyes were closing and my head beginning to nod...

Ring! Ring!

Ring! Ring!


Anyway my granddad is stable and relatively OK. That’s the most important thing. He’s having various tests done this morning but is quite chatty and has some of his old feistiness back.

Which is more than can be said for me.

I feel like a wet rag tossed into an inanimate pool of pre-primordial soup. It’s not a good look.


Anybody want to buy a telephone?

One careful owner. Shotgun pellets come imbedded as standard.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Death Of Magic

When I was an impressionable teen I got into magic. Or rather the idea of magic. In fact this occult interest lasted well into my impressionable twenties.

At the time the occult section of Waterstones (now, I believe, respectably entitled “Health, Body and Spirit” or some such) was bursting at its magical seams with middle class grimoires from the likes of Laurie Cabot and other darker tomes from the late, great and dangerous-to-know Aleister Crowley, who is in fact a fellow Leamingtonian.

I have to say I was swept along more by the theory than the practice though I do recall once going into an “alternative” shop in York and buying a wand that looked like a Native American phallus. All dangly feathers and a ruddy great bulbous crystal sprouting from the end of it. It languished under my bed for years until I offloaded it onto a kooky ex back in 2003. I don’t miss it at all.

As for Crowley... well I was never tempted to try out any of his Magick™, beleaguered as it was with demons, drugs and downright moral depravity but I did purchase a lot of his books. I got about 2 thirds through his immense autohagiography (for those of you who don’t know an autohagiography is supposedly the biography of a saint) before getting bogged down in lengthy "he said / she said" transcripts of various conversations Aleister had enjoyed in various privileged gentleman’s clubs across Europe. It all got a bit stuffy. I just wanted the salacious bedroom exploits and the otherworldly descriptions of the Abyss not the scripts from an Open University staff meeting.

I still own the books and have a few rarities too including a copy of his very dirty poem “Leah Sublime” (which in the modern age is no worse than a 6th form Rugby song).

I keep them now not out or any respect for magical lore but as interesting historical documents. As a figure Aleister Crowley has, I think, stood the test of time. The magical theories, I’m afraid, I now view as complete bunkum. It’s plainly obvious that Crowley was doped to his eyeballs most of the time on heroin and cocaine and various other Victorian opiates and spent a great deal of his time reading esoteric texts and then hallucinating as a direct consequence.

One story from the autohag is a case in point:

Aleister recounts an occasion when he saved a man servant’s life by wrestling a demon to the ground. It’s one of the signature notes of his autohag and makes a great read. However, that same man servant later independently recounts Aleister taking various drugs and then suddenly attacking him. The man servant was lucky to get away with his life, his dignity and his virtue intact. Enough said.

But there was more to Aleister than the dodgy magic. There was philosophy, literature, appalling poetry and a rock and roll lifestyle a good 60 years before rock and roll was even invented. He’s a genuinely interesting character and I may write more about him in the future but don’t have the room or the time now.

Laurie Cabot – an American white witch – is another case entirely. Stephen Fry met her earlier this year during one of his televised road trips across the States and she came across as an aging nutter who spent her time living in a yurt for the tourists and touting feather-based love charms for the sad, lonely and financially incontinent.

I can’t believe I ever fell for any of that crap. It all seems utterly ridiculous now.

Me and magic have, alas, parted company. I’m no longer a believer.

Which isn’t to say I don’t keep an open mind on ghosts, UFOs, and other paranormal oddities.

But magic... magic I’d like to believe in but sadly just don’t anymore. I’ve grown out of it. It’s a young man’s dream, borne out of ignorance and wishful thinking; a desire to control the uncontrollable.

Nowadays I’m more accepting of the uncontrollable. In fact part of me is rather glad that there are some things beyond my control – I can take neither responsibility nor blame for them. It’s an immense relief.

And yet...

...and yet there is a tiny part of me that is sad that I have lost this wide eyed belief in magic. The world seems a little smaller, a little greyer as a consequence. It’s like figuring out the true identity of Father Christmas. You still get the presents. Nothing physically changes in the world.

But the magic has gone.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Littlest Shoplifter

I’d like to make it clear that, as a rule, we do not hold the Artful Dodger or Fagin in high regard in my house. We do not concur with the ethos that you “have to pick a pocket or two” to make it in this world and, with this is mind, we do our best, Karen and me, to instill good manners, the twin virtues of honesty and integrity and an all encompassing high moral outlook into our children so that they may one day bloom into fine, upstanding citizens of the future global community.

So it was a shock to find out that one of them is, by nature, a shoplifter.

We’d nipped into town on Saturday afternoon to run a few boring errands. These lasted a mere hour but seemed interminably forever to Ben and Tom so on the way back to the car we elected to nip into a neat little newsagent en route to purchase some sweetie treats for us all.

Tom was completely ensconced in his pushchair by this point, with the clear plastic rain cover fastened down tight over him to protect him from the lashings of a particularly vicious rain shower.

We were no more than 2 minutes in the shop. Just enough time for me to buy four packets of Cadbury’s Giant Chocolate Buttons (I heartily recommend them for a mid afternoon snack) and clear the moths out of my wallet to pay for them.

We then headed back to the car with our well-gotten gains...

...only to find when we extricated Tom from his little plastic bubble that the little monkey had somehow unfastened one side of the cover and had managed to half-inch a huge birthday badge from the newsagent without either them or us noticing. He’d also managed to remove it from its cardboard packaging and undo the safety pin at the back.

The badge – an ironic comment I’m sure on his father’s approaching 40th birthday in 2 week’s time – read in large bold letters: HAPPY 80th!

We weren’t sure whether to laugh or... well, not cry exactly, but at the very least give Tom the “angry face”. As it was we really didn’t have the heart to do the latter. He looked far too cute and innocent to be flogged for the sake of a £1.39 badge.

And I’m afraid we also failed in our civic duty to return the badge to the premises from which it was so illegally wrested and restore our previously unblemished characters. We were too knackered and far too wet and just wanted to return home as quickly as possible.

So Tom got his chocolate without a frown and the badge was shoved into a drawer that has now been enshrined as “Tom’s First Haul”.

Next week we’re taking him to the bank to see how he gets on with the ATM’s and possibly visiting a high class jeweller afterwards.

All being well when I next blog to you all I shall be doing so from a plush apartment in St Moritz.

After all...

Why should we break our backs
Stupidly paying tax?
Better get some untaxed income
Better to pick-a-pocket or two...

I love a good musical, me.

Sunday, August 02, 2009


My granddad has little in life at the moment that makes him happy.

His wife and youngest daughter dead, his eyesight all but gone he has little else to occupy his hours but the radio, the occasional visitor and a shot or two of rum.

Although when I say “shot” I actually mean “bottle”.

It wasn’t always like this. Initially he’d content himself with an admittedly over generous tot or two but that was as far as it went. But over the last twelve months, certainly since the death of my aunt last September, that tot has increased alarmingly both in volume and frequency.

Now suddenly, a bottle of rum, where it used to last a week, lasts no more than a day or two.

He must neck it back like a drain and not even touch the sides.

At first we, the family, let it go – we ignored it bar a couple of tellings off when he got so tipsy he ended up on his arse and had to call out the emergency service people to haul him back up into his favourite armchair. There was no real harm done. It was almost funny. And, to be honest, what else has he got in life to look forward to? Why shouldn’t he enjoy a drink? After a lifetime of hard graft he’s certainly earnt it.

But as time went on we found him more and more in his cups. A neighbour found him sprawled on the floor one day unable to get himself back up again. An ambulance got called out another time to assist him in a similar scenario... it was starting to become a problem for other people.

So we stepped in. The people who do his weekly shopping were instructed to lessen the rum quota. One bottle instead of two and a smaller capacity bottle at that.

Unfortunately we didn’t reckon with my granddad’s deviousness. We’ve just discovered that, rather slyly, he has been instructing other people to nip out to the shops for him and get him a bottle or two on a regular basis.

Where we’d been thinking he was only getting through one bottle a week we now estimate it’s been at least three.

If he could take it sensibly – eke it out – we wouldn’t have so much of a problem with it. The trouble is once he’s got it, he’s not happy until he’s finished the bottle.

Now I love him to bits and feel a lot of sympathy for him. He’s deeply unhappy and I suspect merely drinks to forget his pain and misery. He’s not an alcoholic as such – it’s just that, given the opportunity, he becomes a drunkard. A fine distinction maybe but it’s one I shall stick by.

However it’s now got out of hand. He gets himself so drunk he can’t stand, can’t eat properly without spilling it all over him and is at real risk of doing himself a serious injury. It’s a real shame. When the rum is gone and he sobers up he’s lovely – lively, reasonably alert and even good humoured. The rum just makes him maudlin and unintelligible and, worse still, drives his visitors away.

It’s time for serious action. It’s time to restrict the rum supplies – possibly right down to zero though I suspect he’ll still be allowed one small bottle a week as a sweetener. Everyone he has dealings with has got to be brought in on this and instructed to stand firm. I’ve volunteered to secretly check his recycling bin every time I visit to ensure that he’s not smuggling in bottles from elsewhere.

Suddenly it’s prohibition Chicago and I feel like I’m the leader of the Temperance Society.


It’s tempting to make a joke out of it but given his deviousness I wouldn’t put it past him to get a distillery going in the downstairs toilet or run a speakeasy from the garden shed.

If I’m honest, I feel uneasy about the whole situation. He’s a grown man and we’re having to treat him like a naughty child but, unfortunately, he’s proven that he just can’t behave sensibly where the rum is concerned.

He’s left us with no choice.

So it’s six of the best and sweeties confiscated for the time being.

That is, after all, the Chicago way...