Craptastic Parents in Shopping Spree Madness

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Here’s an interesting fact about me: I work in retail, in a gigantic ultra-store. It’s pretty good, actually. I get to help nice people with some very specific problems, which is a good way to spend a day. I also work alongside decent sorts, and the company isn’t a rank bastard. My day is generally full of lovely people.

I also get to people-watch, which is tremendous fun. Sometimes I see people being adorable, which goes against my instinctive opinions about the general public. Sometimes I see people being parents, and that’s always inspiring to me as a fellow breeder, because some parents are brilliant, and I can always do with picking up tips on how to be better. Most parents are average, and that’s cool too. Average is fine. I’m totally average.

But occasionally – very occasionally – I see parents being less than stellar, and this is fun too (though not for their families). Because that’s when I get to be judgmental.

Oh, come on. Don’t judge me for being judgmental (even though that is somewhat hypocritical of me to demand this). I like being judgmental. I can look upon people and decide whether they deserve to exist. Being judgmental is FUN! On the whole – and this surprised me – most parents I see in shops are pretty good. They engage with their kids, they all look like they’re having a fun day out (even though shopping is not always a fun activity), and they show respect for one another. I aspire to be like that. Sometimes the kids misbehave, and some parents deal with it pretty well. Sometimes the parents say to the kids, “If you don’t behave, the man over there will come and tell you off”, to which I long to say: Hey, don’t drag me into your shit. I’m not the head of discipline here. Kid, go nuts.

And then there are the parents who misbehave – and believe me, when parents misbehave, it’s worse than the kids. Sometimes it’s a snarky giggle to observe.

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“Natalie, I am cursed to go shopping until you tell me what this is. What is it? Fucking tell me, or we’re trapped here forever!”

Occasionally it’s disturbing.

Before we go any further, I’d just like to point out that I am totally capable of being an absolute arse-cleft when shopping. I don’t always measure up. I’ve had all the classic bad-father-in-shopping-centre-stupidity moments. I have whined. I have slumped and sulked in frustration like a teenager. I’ve urged Sarah to get a bloody move on. I’ve had choices presented to me, and I’ve shrugged and said “whatever…” because I actually want to go home. I have had rows. I’ve stomped off angrily in the opposite direction when I didn’t get my way. I’ve got irritable when shopping has gone on for far too long. I’ve had grown-man tantrums in public. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve snapped at my beloveds.

Here’s a specific moment of crap shop-parenting so that you can judge me for a bit: I once got fed up of Alice (aged 5 at the time) running around screaming in a large shop and refusing to calm down. So I grabbed her by the arm to try and arrest her momentum. Unfortunately, the thing I grabbed was the hood of her anorak, which was fastened up to the neck. Alice stopped all right, with an “hw’erk!” of strangulation, and she fell hard onto her coccyx.

Oh God. Throttling your child is apparently a big parenting no-no. So there I was, in a busy shop, trying to comfort my now-weeping child (and, rather despicably, doing that thing where one apologises for  bad behaviour, and simultaneously attempts to justify that poor behaviour like a complete prick) in front of dozens of witnesses. I heard at least one tut. Not my finest moment ever.

So now we’ve got my poor parenting out of the way, let me assuage my guilt by telling you all about some of the shite families I have witnessed as both a shopper and a shop worker.

The Red Bull Incident:
I once witnessed a parent with a small child in tow. The child couldn’t have been older than seven years old, and was drinking from a 350ml can of Red Bull with a straw. Now, I’m a drinker of Red Bull when I need to be, but it is foul and disgusting. Also, I really don’t think a small child should be drinking that much caffeine and taurine, particularly through the direct-injection of a straw. I currently have an empty can of the stuff on my desk in front of me (which I really should put in the bin) and it very clearly says ‘not recommended for children‘ in bold writing.

Anyhoo, the parent had clearly not read this instruction, or didn’t care, and had given the rather massive can to the kid in order to shut them up with sugary chemicals, and was blithely unaware of the shitstorm that I was sure was about to be unleashed.  To my immense schaudenfreude, my prophecy came true half an hour later. I was walking through a further bit of the store and witnessed what could only be described as a screaming blur dressed in the same clothes as the child I had seen earlier. That same Red Bull-sucking child had gone feral, and was thrashing around, screaming his head off. The parent was remonstrating with the poor kid, and actually had the nerve to wail “Why are you being like this??”

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Red Bull. The effects could last forever.

It’s because you’ve given your child their entire pre-teen allowance of caffeine in just 20 minutes, and now they’re so wired you need to strap them down. You halfwit.

Trolley Scraping:
I once saw a family walking through a store. The parents were a little way ahead. The kids (a brother and sister, approx 11 and 9 years old) were behind. The brother was pushing the trolley, and the sister was hanging on to the front of the trolley, her feet on the frame. There was a sibling argument going on, and the parents were dealing with this by telling them to pack it in by snarling over their shoulders without turning round. The children then escalated their war. The brother attempted to dislodge his sister by shoving the trolley back and forth very hard. The sister held on admirably, and tried to work her way up the side of the trolley to clout him. I was on her side; he was being a whiny little twat.

He then went up to a protruding corner wall and tried to use it to scrape his sister off the side of the trolley. She yelled in pain as she was crushed against the point of the corner. At that point, the father wheeled round, marched up to them both and castigated his daughter for being noisy, while the son smirked in victory. The look of disbelief  on her face and her vocal outrage at the injustice of it all still haunts me two years on.

Threatening Behaviour:
“If you don’t shut up NOW, I’ll SMASH YOUR FUCKING FACE IN” – Man to his female partner in front of their children, leaving her looking shocked and afraid, presumably because she had the nerve to take him shopping on a Saturday. Lovely chap, I’m sure.

Shoving Kids in Trollies:
As a parent, and a trained first-aider, what really gets my goat is other parents putting their kids in the trolley. I’m not talking about the little fold-out seat designed for under-fives, but actually standing up in the basket of the trolley itself. The potential for an accident is massive. All sorts of things could happen, but typically, the trolley would collide into something and the unrestrained kid then smashes into the wire basket.

I attended an incident just like this two days ago. You do not want to see a two-year-old with a lump the size of an egg on their forehead. It’s horrible. And enough of my fellow in-store first-aiders have plenty of jolly  anecdotes about smashed teeth and gushing bloody noses, all because some parents would rather their child not undergo the inconvenience of walking.

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It’s not fucking difficult, is it?

I’ve never let Alice stand in the basket of a trolley, despite her asking. Her legs are fine, and it wouldn’t hurt her to use them. I’d rather she was complaining of sore feet than complaining about being in A&E.

Incidentally, first-aiding is something I’ve always wanted to do, and I recently did the course. It’s worth doing, if only to scare yourself rigid, to hear the most horrific first-hand accounts of dreadful incidents, and to have a responsibility that weighs heavily on your shoulders every time you arrive at work for an 8-hour shift. But it does give yourself a skill you might need in a bad situation. Nearly all of my calls have been for children caught up in some misadventure or other, usually because they’re running around. Minor head injuries, mostly.

The worst so far was when I was less than ten feet away from one kid who wriggled from his mother’s grasp and fell backwards onto his skull. I didn’t see it – I was on the other side of a partition wall, but Oh God, I heard it. There was a sickening noise. I thought it was a plastic shelf smacking onto the floor, until I heard the awful, blood-curdling, guttural screaming. I don’t know which was worse, the child’s scream, the mother’s distress at her child’s accident and potential head injury, or her guilt at her child falling from her arms. And while I was helping to assess the child’s injury and calming the poor mother, a crowd gathered. One absolute fucknut, who was passing-by, whipped out his mobile phone to capture the moment for posterity.

Just look after your kids in a big store, OK?
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Shoving Kids In Trollies and Expecting Them To Stand Still:
OK, you’ve put your kid to stand upright in the trolley, despite my advice not to. Well done. I already hate you. Then, you pile loads of things all around the kid, and wheel them around a large shop with many obstacles. A trolley is not a stable thing, and a child would need to adjust their stance in order not to smash their soft and fragile face on the wire frame. Children can do this, although their sense of balance is not as acute as an adult. So the child stabilises themselves against the motion of the trolley by getting strong foot-purchase on the contents of the trolley.

Just literally a few weeks ago, I saw a child standing in a trolley, on top of some large picture frames. The frames could not fit in the trolley, so were at an angle against the wires of the basket. The child, aged about four, had nowhere to put their feet, other than on the picture frames themselves. There was an ominous crack, and both parents yelled – properly yelled at full volume – at the kid for the cardinal sin of trying to stand upright on top of picture frames whilst being pushed in a trolley.

What sort of clattering thicko buys expensive frames, and then plonks a kid to stand on top of them, and then blames the kid for trying to remain standing up? The father, no doubt blinded by his own brilliance, then yanked the kid out of the trolley by the arm on one massive heave, and gave her a thorough bollocking. The poor child was furious and humiliated. Again, I was on the kids’ side.

Violence:

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All my life, not just in my job, I’ve seen parents smack, clip round the ear, shake, shove, and bully their kids in shops. It’s horrid to watch. By contrast, I’m one of those parents who gets down on one knee and very quietly utters a threat of punishment to my child because I don’t want other people to think I’m a shouty monster. You may call it cowardice, I call it not being a bullying twat in public. I prefer to wait until I get home before behaving like a monster. That’s reasonable, isn’t it?

“Mummy I Want My Phone”:
I just don’t understand why parents, on family days out, shove their kids in the back of the car with a hand-held screeny-thing either, when there’s scenery to look at, daydreams to indulge in, music on the stereo, and family conversations to be had; but I suppose I’m a knee-jerk technophobe who had no option but to tolerate long car journeys as a child. I really don’t understand why parents give their kids an expensive, noisy, flashing gadget on short trips to the shops. I blame both parents and kids for not partaking in the shopping experience in the spirit in which it is intended.

Oh, all right, going shopping is a massive pain in the arse, but is giving your kid a hand-held screen to idle the time away really the answer? Are we really training our kids to be hooked to tiny screens rather than an interest in the world around them? What habits are we forming in their tiny minds? For example, because there was always a book in the bathroom throughout my childhood, I can’t now do a number two in my own home without a good ten minutes’ reading, much to my wife and child’s early morning annoyance. I admit, it’s not a good habit.

So anyway, I was right by the entrance to a nearby supermarket recently, when I noticed a woman coming in. She had a crowd of girls around her, aged roughly between 5 and 13. This woman was posh – sometimes you can just tell, even without hearing them speak. The girls were all pony-tailed and slender and had the same thin face as the woman. An obvious family. And when I eavesdropped on their conversations, their accents were classic English, Radio 4, crystal-decanter, pony club, posho-posh. They had literally just entered the store.

One of the daughters – second eldest, by my reckoning – tapped their mother, who was trying to read a shopping list and read out their plan, on the elbow.
“Mummy, I want my phone” (‘phone’ pronounced as ‘pheaune’)
“In a minute, dear, I’m just trying to…”
“Mummy, I want my phone
“Let me just get this sorted, lovely”.
“Mummy. I want my phone now.” (this was not shouted, but the emphasis was clearly audible)
“I’ll get you your phone in a minute.”
–pause–
“MUMMYIWANTMYPHONEIWANTMYPHONEIWANTMYPHONEIWANTMYPHONEIWANTMYPHONEIWANTMY-”
“Oh, all right poppet, here it is” (produces shiny black monolith from the recesses of a leather handbag).
Child, no word of thanks, instantly puts her head down and starts frantically typing on the phone, no doubt writing on Instayelp to her lacrosse team about how horribly unfair everything is.

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This is what is likely to happen when pheaune is not produced within 28 seconds.

I hated both child and mother instantly.

Names:
I know we all like our children to have interesting and distinctive names, and we want our children to grow up to be different from all the rest. I don’t want to criticise your choices. Your child’s name is deeply personal, and I respect that your reasons for choosing your child’s name are profound and significant. I also know there are cultural and family reasons for particular names, and I am not fit to pass judgment on your decisions…

…but it has to be said that there are some people who are just white, pretentious, aspirational middle-class wankers who give wanky names to their wanker kids: Cassius. Fabian. Alfonse. Saladin. Thisbe. Orion. Darwin. Blue. Orlando. Clematis. Phoenix. Dante. Ariadne. Persephone. These are all names that have been within my own earshot in shops, and it is almost always said by a pleading woman who is trying ineffectively to control a recalcitrant child. I know am running the risk of offending you if you have given your child a distinctive name that has been bestowed for reasons of tradition, culture, or love, and I get that… but Saladin? Really?

The Couple (with two small children) Who Came Up To Me With A Complaint Who Reeked Of Stale Booze And Swore A Lot:
Fuck me, you people have a serious problem, and I hope your kid does not copy your example.

Oh, and just the other week, I did have somebody be obnoxiously racist to me about the Muslims we get in store, the non-white heritage of one of my colleagues, and anyone from Wales. He didn’t have any kids with him that I could see, so he wasn’t a bad parent, just your average common-or-garden cunt.

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Please don’t get me wrong. 99.9999% of the customers I encounter are splendid and polite. They treat their kids with love, and they deal with any frustrations with good humour and reasonable discipline. The kids are usually all right too, they’re just bored surrounded by distractions, and they act out because of it. Sometimes they scream their way around the store, but that’s fine. Kids scream. I don’t mind it, despite some parents thinking I do. I see great parents all day, every day, looking after their kids, singing songs to the tiny ones, involving the older ones in the shopping experience, and doing their best to make their family time in a massive store enjoyable.

Shopping is a chore. It’s a ballache. Maybe all of my examples of poor behaviour were exceptions to their otherwise unimpeachable characters. We can’t be expected to be perfect all the time. So if 99.999% percent of people have one bad shopping trip, who am I to judge? The examples I listed above are rarities, the absolute exception. I don’t see people like that every day, or even every month. So, I’m not exaggerating when I say that 99.999% of my customers – and I usually encounter hundreds on a shift – are superb and I genuinely enjoy helping them.

OK. Maybe on a super-busy day it’s more like 98.7%. A busy store like ours is a bit of an intimidating, overwhelming place, and even though I’ve been there for two years, I have experienced my own share of panic attacks. Yes, I do get people being rude, unreasonable, petulant, whiny, handling disappointment with bad grace, and seemingly hell-bent on being arsey, but that’s part of the job. And maybe I’m the reason why they get annoyed, I dunno. It’s possible I have a manner that enrages and a face that invites punching. What amazes me is how rare these people are, and if they are behaving like pricks, there’s usually an understandable reason why.

But be warned: I do observe people. And so do my colleagues. We’re on to you. Just remember that when you’re out shopping, shop workers such as myself are watching you. If something happens – an incident, a behavioural tick, an overheard remark – you will become an anecdote. We will laugh at you when you’re out of sight. We will repeat what you have just said, and we will snigger about you and your stupid attitude. And you will be judged by your behaviour, and the way you treat your children.

Oh yes. I assure you: Ye shall be judged.

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Reflections On My Daughter Turning 8

She’s 8
She’s growing up fast
Too fast, in fact
You can hear the moments swoosh by in painful Doppler-effect
I can’t make her stay young
But I’ll miss the 8 year old, like I miss the 6 and the 3

She’s 8
Lives in a world filled with friends
But she’s beginning to get puzzled
At why some people don’t play with her

One day
Someone will tell her she’s not cool enough
And no matter how hard I will try to convince her otherwise
She’ll believe them and not me

She’s 8
Soon she’ll be 10
She’ll want things that are new and expensive
That are essential to helping her to fit in
Right now, she doesn’t care
Thank God for that
May it remain in the future

She’s 8
She can see the World now
She sees the news, and realises it affects her
She sees the faraway country, and feels the connection
I am proud and sad
“Saoud”? “Prad”?

And she makes me happy
All breathless and giddy and funny and shouting
She’ll still make me happy in five years time
But the giddy and excited will make way
For quiet moments in her room
The wide-eyed wonder will be pushed back
And her instinctive automatic affection will embarrass her

She’s 8
And she name-drops Jaguar
She thinks it’s the best car
Because she knows I want to drive one
And she can spot Led Zeppelin
Doesn’t care if her friends can’t
In five years
They’ll tell her she’s sad
Then she’ll tell me I’m sad
Then I’ll actually be sad
But not teenager-sad
Adult-sad
Properly sad
That I’m the embarrassing Dad
She will put empty space between what she likes
And what I love

shai hulud
She’s 8, and she has summoned Shai-Hulud #prouddad

She’s 8
And I’m still Daddy
I’m not Dad yet
I know it’s coming
I want Dad to be kept at bay
It’s a name that can lengthened
Into a Daaaaaaaaad! of annoyance and frustration
Daddy can be in this house a little longer
Even though the insistent monotone
Daddy…
Daddy…
Daddy…
Follows me around the shops

She’s 8
Soon she’ll be swearing
I’m looking forward to not having to mind my language
But I don’t want that open, sweet face to utter a curse

She’s 8
She’ll soon want to kiss
And whoever she kisses
Had better be good to her
Fist-shakey father
Terrifying the spotty teenager
Who dares to be overly polite on our doorstep
And calls me ‘sir’ on first meeting
LOL
Taking pleasure in his angular awkwardness
“Sado-Dad”

She’s 8
Staying indoors
When I was 8, I rode the town
On a bike across busy roads
Into deserted back lanes
And ran pathways in woods
Encountering hostile bigger kids
And stashes of creased magazines
Full of naughty hair

And bought bright green teeth-gouging sweets
With sweaty coppers
And sometimes crossed the road
Without waiting for David Prowse to bleep at me
Knocked on familiar doors without invitation
Played on wheel-worn tarmac
Watched skin concertina up my knee

I’m still too scared
I can’t bring myself to let her cross the road solo yet
Or walk to school alone
Or buy things in the shop
Or walk round to a friends’ house
Or make a phone call
Or type a word into Google
Because everything leads to porn, you know
Cars don’t stop for pedestrians
And all strangers are terrifying monsters
The world outside these comfortable brick walls
Is full of broken glass and needles
Blade-edged crushing cars and perverts
I’m the one who is scared, not her

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“Why haven’t you won a fucking Oscar yet??”

She’s 8
She writes and talks and sings and dances
And sticky inept fingers on piano keys
Pick out idiot melodies
Words come out jumbled and charming
Without thinking any of that is wrong
And one day, and it’s a day hurtling towards us
She’ll write properly
Talk politely with a filter

She will be too scared to sing
Because other people are listening
She’ll refrain from sudden public dancing
because other people are watching
And the music will be corrected
And she’ll speak like the rest of us
Just to avoid the tuts and sneers
Just because other people want her to be normal

And she makes me happy
She’s so breathless and giddy
And talking without fader
When we’re both shouting and snarling
She’s usually crying
And I’m towering
I’m usually winning
But she hasn’t hated me yet
Or sworn or slammed doors
Or run out of the castle into the tangled Disney forest
Or scrawled on walls
Or turned up the volume
Of yelping, excoriating words
From paid miserablists
Who in their twenties and thirties
Articulate for teenagers
Or turned inwards and loathing
Writing words on secret paper
Refusing my courtesy
Sour respect

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It’s John I feel most sorry for. Not so awful to be a never, and not a DEFINITELY!! Just a dismissive ‘Not really’. Poor Not-really John

She’s 8
And soon her body will disobey
Bits poke out and make her distinct
Skin will swell
Tiny volcanoes
Angry red swarm on cheeks
Clothes feeling tight
Skeleton rearranging
New pituitary chemicals
The doorway of womanhood

And then the pointing
Sly giggling
Innuendos and slurs
Developments are early or late
And others will be having it better
Whatever she gets, she’ll feel it is wrong
The inevitable exile
From self or army of others

Right now
She’s a blank larvae
Teeth the only sign
Of growth and maturity
And height marks on a doorframe
Long hair and dress sense
Inspired by fairy-tale and dream
Her trusting eyes
Long sighted
Blue and open
Always hopeful

And she makes me happy
And she makes me so, so happy
All breathless and giddy
We love the same things
She’ll still make me happy in five years time
Will she still love the same things?
Or will she want to lengthen her arms
Keep me and my things at the tips?
Put the blinker-hand to her eyes
And walk a little bit quicker than me?

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It was right after this picture was taken that one of the Dads said “…and remember, girls. Always use a condom”. Pick your moment carefully, fathers.

She’s 8
8 is vanishing
Soon she’ll be 9
Soon she’ll be 12
Soon she’ll be 15
She’s halfway to 16
A decade from voting
Sex and drinking
Driving and smoking
Separate living
Not daily talking but sometimes calling
The aged parents
Our duty done, her duty to contact

The silent house
Is very distant now
10 years or more
But soon will be close
She’s still golden
While I’m still dark, but snow is forming
And the body will lengthen
She’ll look me in the eye
And ask for freedom
My wife and I
Praise the quiet
At the end of each day
Talk boring adult things
Mortgages and roadworks

But when clocks stop
And lights switch off
On the final closing of doors
Emptied drawers
The relinquishing of house keys
Her terrifying adventure
Enriching, engorging and full
Will be a solo flight
We’ll be left behind
My wife and I
Clinging to each other
Like shipwrecked beavers on a raft
Wishing for the chatter
And streaming prattle
To return as soundtrack
I write it down
So that I can always hear it

She’s gone, cannot return
She changes, grows, and blossoms
I carve gouges in my face
My hair turns to birch-bark silver
And mother becomes a cheerful apple
Rose-red and comforting
To the new names and beautiful hands
A kitchen and a front room to visit
Pot-pourri walls and confident with nails
Our beloved garden
Books and photos in the attic
Always visited
…So far away
Getting closer
Return to this room now

She’s 8
And I’m 40
She’s soaring upwards
And I’m sauntering down.

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How I see mine and my daughter’s relationship unfolding as the years go on. Your parenting role-models might differ from mine.

My Daughter is Teh Awesomz!!

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How Alice would like our bathroom. So that she can still have chats. No. Just… no

I just got irritable at Alice. I properly shouted at her.

It was before heading off to school. I was on the loo, making myself lighter, and she came upstairs and started gabbling at me. Annoyed at having my one moment of isolation interrupted, I snapped through the door to leave me alone. She cried, yelled “Well… leave ME alone!!” and stomped off into her room, sobbing.

“Can’t I have one moment of privacy??” I pleaded with her, after things had cooled down.
“You get privacy at work!” she responded. I work in retail, in a store with hundreds of employees, and with many thousands of customers per week. I am surrounded at all times by many people. She knows this. As comebacks go, it’s one of the most bizarre.

Now at this point, you’re thinking this is a blog entry about my toilet visits being interrupted by my offspring. It’s a classic parent trope, isn’t it? The fact you cannot go to the toilet by yourself anymore? Hilarious! But I fancy wrongfooting you today, and I hope it has worked. On the walk back from school, I started thinking about how this blog doesn’t always express the pride I have in her. And it’s about time I should do something about this. Hopefully, I shall do it in a way that doesn’t make you sick.

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Sooooo… pride in your children leads to… cannibalism?? Literally… wut?

Before we go any further, I don’t want you to think that I’m going to gush proudly about Alice in blog format, and then not tell her to her face how much I am proud of her and her achievements. I DO tell her. I tell her a lot.

I’m proud of her for many reasons. Not just that she’s good in school – of course, I’d be bothered if she wasn’t, but I’m more concerned with who she is as a person, not a test score. The fact that she’s doing well in school is a happy coincidence, and I am proud of that, but to me, what really matters is who she is turning into.  And I like that person a lot.

  • When she spontaneously does a lot of tidying without complaint. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I’m delighted. Just yesterday, she announced that she was going to be “super-helpful!!” with audible exclamation marks. So she helped me with the shopping, helped me pack it away when we got home, and then tidied the living room.
  • When she talks with confidence to people, especially adults. Sometimes she says too much, or talks out of turn, or gives out too much information, or just babbles. But to just have the ability and willingness to attempt to converse with the adults she meets with me, instead of hiding behind my legs, is something I’m really pleased about.
  • When she can stand up in front of an audience and not feel any fear. So many adults piss themselves dry at the thought of public speaking. Alice revels in it.
  • Seeing her interact with other children, when she’s in a strange place or in a strange situation, is always rewarding. She makes friends easily.
  • The other day, she announced that she hadn’t watched enough news. So she watched some, because she realised she needed to know what was happening in the world. You go, girl!
  • After three and a half years of primary school, and lots of gentle cajoling from teachers, she just transformed her handwriting. What used to be sentanceswithnospacesorpunctuationwhatsoeverinaspideryhand are now flowing and neat, and written in an elegant and slender gothic script. This is something I’m not just proud of, but slightly jealous about. I still have appalling handwriting.

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    Alice’s handwriting is coming along nicely!
  • Alice is good at science and has an interest in the scientific method. I’m not particularly, and neither is Sarah. Recently, she has developed a fascination with the periodic table. Despite me knowing next to nothing about the periodic table, I am keen to foster this interest.
  • Alice is good at maths. I most definitely am not.
  • Alice told me she wants to challenge me to a geek trivia quiz. I told her that I would beat her, hands down. She put her hands on her hips instead, and firmly told me I would lose. I said, Oh yeah?, and asked her what Deep Thought calculated was the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. She didn’t know, and asked me who Deep Thought was. OK, so I proved my point, but I’m really pleased that a) she is interested in geek trivia (and was both confused and amazed at the answer 42, and wanted to know more); b) she actively seeks a quiz on geek trivia; and c) that she thinks she can take me on.
  • Alice doesn’t take shit from me. She really doesn’t. Much as I would like her to obey every command without question, and follow every instruction, and not be so cheeky as to answer back, I am still really pleased she stands up to me. If she can stand up to me, she can face up to bullies, abusive boyfriends, and crap bosses.
  • When she stands up for herself, in school, in the face of some quite nasty behaviour from her peers (they’re 8, they do that, even the lovely ones, and most of her classmates truly are lovely, but sometimes they can be horrific to one another), or when someone continually picks on her. She doesn’t realise this, because she gets upset and feels helpless, but I’m really proud that she does the right thing: She doesn’t hide from the confrontation, she calls them out on it, she challenges their attitude towards her, and she tells someone about it – a teacher, a friend, Sarah and I. By contrast, I really wish I had done that so many times in my life, up to and including last week.
  • Alice wants to watch films. She wants to go to the cinema with me. The other day we saw Beauty and the Beast (the new live-action version with Emma Watson) at our local flickhouse. It was rubbish, but we had a lovely afternoon of me and her, and she loved it, and we did popcorn, and afterwards we held hands and skipped through the cinema foyer. A gang of teenage girls looked aghast at this sight, and one sniggered in a nasty way. Alice didn’t notice and I didn’t care. Even seeing a bad film with Alice is good fun.
  • Alice likes music, and is happy to be introduced to new sounds. It has to be done the right way. You can’t just play Alice a song, or a band, and expect her to like it. Hearing a song on a film soundtrack is a good way to feed her new songs. Or hype up a band over a couple of weeks until she demands to hear it. Thanks to the teaser trailer for the upcoming Thor Ragnarok which employs effective use of Immigrant Song, Alice has developed an enthusiasm for Led Zeppelin. WIN. Now I’ve been telling her about Stairway to Heaven and – crucially – not playing it to her. Now she really wants to hear it. The other day, I casually mentioned Pink Floyd and her ears noticeably pricked up and she asked me who they were and what they sounded like. Sometimes she does surprise me. Not long ago, I played an old Genesis album in the car, to Sarah’s mild annoyance. From the back seat, a small voice piped up “I’m feeling this, Daddy!”. Now Genesis are one of her favourite bands, even though I’m slightly embarrassed about it.

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    I’m sort-of sorry about this.
  • Alice doesn’t care what other people think of her music taste. I think this is great. With her burgeoning enthusiasm for Zeppelin, and an established love of Bowie, Kate Bush, and AC/DC, I do worry how her peers would react to her tastes, as mine did back in the day.

    “What if they tell you that you’re not cool enough, and the music you like is uncool and sad, Alice?”, I asked her.

    “I don’t care”, she answered, blithely. “It’s my music, and I like it, and that’s that.”

    That got a high five.

  • Alice cares about other people. She has empathy, particularly when other people are upset. She has signed up to the school program to be a ‘playground buddy’, which means she will be looking after the small kids, or anyone who hasn’t got a friend to play with.
  • Alice reads. She reads story books, Harry Potter, graphic novels, kid science books, magazines… now while reading is one of those things all kids are expected to do, I did get a bit worried a year or two ago when Alice just didn’t seem to enjoy reading all that much. She could do it quite easily, she just didn’t seem to get a thrill out of it. Now she does it a lot more. Authors are beginning to attract her attention. Obviously JK Rowling gets a mention, and Roald Dahl of course, but she’s heard a few short stories by Terry Pratchett, and is keen to read more. She still won’t read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory though, and still describes it as her worst fear (usually whilst shivering and quaking theatrically). Although, a few weeks ago, she announced she had started reading it, and would probably skip the scary bits.
  • As previously mentioned on this blog, we recently bought a Playstation 4. Alice loves it, and has enthusiastically started getting into gaming. She has, with Sarah’s help, built her own world on Minecraft, filled with very Alice things. It’s a town called Poppitron, and there’s the mile-high bridge that goes nowhere, a lava fountain, the most opulent railway station in the world made of emerald and gold, a school made of glass, a permanent scrapyard fire-pyramid, a vertical football stadium, a movie studio called Pollywood, a tower of carpet, a giant clock tower, a duck farm.
  • She sings her own songs, spontaneously, and with gusto. Some of her compositions are charming, and not many of them are about poo or wee, as all of my songs were when I was aged 8.
  • She wants to be an author (blimey, who doesn’t around here?) and she has started writing her ideas down in a notebook. Some of them have genuine potential. What I’m really proud of is that a) she’s taking it seriously; and b) she’s actually developing good discipline and practice.
  • She’s good with names and imaginative ideas. She has had, since the age of three, an imaginary country called Mongray, and the citizens of Mongray speak a language called Chiksh. The language, mythology, and geography of Mongray is always evolving. Her various worlds in Minecraft have great names – Floransems and Efammubi for example. By contrast, my latest character name for Call of Duty is Ultra-Dan Megaskillz.

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    It’s all kicking off in downtown Effamubi…
  • She’s a smart, clever, funny girl, who likes conversation and interesting things. She cares for other people, and is interested in how the world operates. She likes words and numbers and science. She can play imaginative games by herself, and she likes joining in with other people. She loves school. She loves family. She likes doing stuff with Sarah and I, and we have fun together. She doesn’t ask for material things very often, and certainly isn’t interested in current fads, trends, must-have toys, or the latest ‘thing’ very much; and she doesn’t care what other people think of her.

 

I’m not complacent though, and there is room for improvement. There’s still a lot of parenting by myself and Sarah to do, and Alice has to make the effort as well. But really, it’s on us. For example, she has never made toast. She has never crossed a road all by herself without me or Sarah looking out for her. She can’t swim all that well. She has never ridden a bike. She has never bought anything in a shop all by herself. She still uses her fingers as a piece of cutlery. She sometimes doesn’t know when to stop talking, and sometimes she doesn’t have that filter between brain and mouth.

She is, however, remarkable to me. I never can quite get over that really not that long ago, she was a cluster of cells, and then she was a baby with a formless mind, and then a toddler, and now she’s a proper person. With thoughts, and ideas, and dreams, and opinions. She’s growing up to be more than I could ever wish for, and sometimes more than I can bear. I’m so totally, utterly, properly, ultrally proud of her, that I just make up words sometimes. Rather like she does.

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Proud parent

 

Super Megathing 3000

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If you’re noticing a spring in my step, and a more zesty attitude to life, you might be forgiven for thinking I’ve won the lottery or had sex. But no, my new vim and vigour has come about due to last Christmas’s family Christmas present: A Sony Playstation 4.

Anybody who says that material things – especially sparkly digital shriekboxes – are ephemera we could all do without is talking absolute bollocks. Having a Playstation 4 really has made my life completely better.

I should explain why I’m so giddy about this. You see, I’ve never had a cutting-edge games console before (I know, I know, #FirstWorldProblems and all that). I am not what you might call an early adopter of technology. I do not own an MP3 player. I haven’t got a sat-nav in my car. I sneer at Apple things, and baulk at their prices. My smart phone is cheap, low-cost, and only used for text messages and phone calls, and that’s it. Good tech is wasted on me.

I’ve been conditioned to be like this. Growing up in the 1980s, my father was afflicted by that strange delusion that middle-aged men with young families had back then, and bought a home computer on the basis that it would help my brother and I do better homework than anyone else, and that he could control the family finances in a much more comprehensive way. Of course, that was bullshit, and we used it as a home arcade-game machine. I don’t think I ever saw him use it for compiling a spreadsheet, and I certainly never did homework on it.

It was a BBC Model B Microcomputer, with a 5″ floppy disk drive and 32kb of memory, and it was brilliant. He managed to get a few games for it, and that was enough, end of story. At the same time, the games console market was taking off, but he figured that a computer with games on it was enough for us, end of story, no argument.

Typically of our family (we also had a Betamax video recorder) The BBC Model B was not a machine my contemporaries had (most of my peers had a ZX Spectrum 48k), so games were hard to come by (apart from the original Elite, which was fucking brill, and I now play the new updated online version, Elite: Deadly Turbo Zone). Over subsequent years, we’d get various underpowered PCs, thanks to my Dad’s insistence on computers over consoles, and to his complete lack of knowledge about computers.

This parsimonious attitude rubbed off on me. As a student in the 1990s, when my chums were all blowing grants and student loans on the original Playstation, I thought I was being sensible by not getting one. Fool. I therefore missed out on staying up until 5am with a spliff in my hand, playing Tomb Raider. This was an essential experiential part of the cultural zeitgeist in the 1990s, and I missed out on it, and as a result my life has never really recovered.

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I’ve missed out on such fun.

A few years ago, I caved in and bought a Wii, some years after everyone else had bought one. It’s OK, but games were hardly being churned out for it, even in 2010. We now use it for the fitness thing, except it can be quite judgmental. But this Christmas, both Sarah and I agreed to get a new console.

We reasoned that as Alice was getting older, that she should have some sort of Super Megathing 3000. For one thing, most of her friends have got tablets, Nintendo DS’s, Xboxes and so on, and we didn’t want her to feel left out. For another, we wanted her to have something that had a current supply of decent games coming out every so often. And finally, and most importantly, Sarah and I wanted all of those things for ourselves.

Sarah, ever the clever budgeter, thought we could get a PS3 second-hand, and that would do the job. For once, I didn’t agree. I felt that Alice would be better served by having new games. It’s not that I wanted her to have better, flashier stuff than her chums (nor do I want to rub it into the faces of our fellow parents), but that she could have something she could be proud of, and that she could have something where the games were relevant and current. I said all this, knowing full well that, deep down, my real reason for wanting a PS4 over a PS3 was that I wanted something spanking new for once, dammit!

After 30 years of console culture, I finally wanted to have something where, if a new game came out, I didn’t watch the adverts, wistfully hoping that I could one day have something as snazzy. I wanted to have a game and a console that all the other kids in the neighbourhood had. I wanted the shiny bullshit for once, and I wanted to have the bestest graphics, and the dopest games, yo. I wanted to play games when they came out. I wanted to play violent games online, and get my own back on teenagers from Ohio who call me a “faggot” and a “n00b” by blasting them repeatedly in the face (in the game, of course. Duh).
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Besides, I’m an adult now, and what’s the point of actually working for a living if I can’t buy whatever the fuck I want?

I also reasoned with Sarah that Alice could have child-friendly games of her own, and that Sarah could play her beloved Minecraft in glorious, plasma-screen HD (up until now played on a creaking laptop). I reasoned that the PS4 would be current for a good few years yet, and it would be fine for a few years after any successor came out.

And lo, my wheedling paid off. The PS4 is now the newest member of the family. Fuck, it’s great. OK, so I can’t stay up until 5am with a spliff in my hand, sitting on a beanbag making Lara Croft jiggle around with guns – the time in my life where I could do that has now passed. Instead, Sarah and I can sit together and chat while we play our games. It’s quality husband/wife time together. Alice has also enjoyed playing  various Lego games and Minecraft herself. And it has brought a new disciplinary tool to the family dynamic: The old “If-you-don’t-do-your-homework-now-you-won’t-play-the-PS4-this-weekend” thing, which works a treat. The threat of which means that Alice will quickly do whatever she’s asked to do with minimum fuss. The threat of having her Lego Avengers game withdrawn is too much for her to bear. I mean, what else will she do without the PS4 to sustain her? Actually play with real Lego?? HA!

OK, so all I’ve done is bought a racing game, Twatty Car Vroomfest, and a shooty game in the form of Star Wars Battlegasm, and they’re all very shiny and lovely. I haven’t played Call of Duty Black Ops II online yet. In fact, I haven’t played any online games yet (and thus my waste of good tech continues), but I do feel like I’ve been a provider. I’ve finally become a good modern father after all my self-absorbed, liberal, non-bling, non-acquisitional pontificating and posturing, right? I’ve provided for my family. I haven’t denied my child some gaudy thing just because I didn’t have it as a lad, or out of being miserly. I’ve bought something aspirational and current, and it didn’t hurt. In fact, I feel better for it. I’m having fun, and so is my family! They’re downstairs right now playing on Minecraft as I type this. We’re all happy! You know, I think I may be becoming shallow and materially obsessed as everyone else. Hooray!

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At LONG FUCKING LAST!!! THIS IS MINE!!

Parents’ Evening: A Guide to Translation

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“It’s all your fault.”

It’s Parents’ Evening soon. I hate it. I hated it as a child (and would dread my returning parents wearing their “we need to have a talk” faces), and now I hate it as an adult. I’m sure that if I were a teacher, I’d hate it too.

I’m not saying that it should be abolished. Parents’ Evening is one of the most important elements in the school system. It is imperative that a teacher can have a sit-down conversation with their students’ parents at least once a year. It is vital that parents converse with their child’s teacher on an annual basis at the very least. Of course, some parents like to do this on a daily basis, but that’s modern interfering parents for you.

This is an encounter where feelings can run high, criticisms can be made, and offence can be taken. Therefore the language used by teachers is sometimes not quite as direct and honest as it could be. In order to avoid a severe beating from psychotically insecure parents who project themselves onto their children and whose self-esteem is wrapped up in their child’s success, teachers now use very diplomatic and nuanced language at Parents’ Evening.

Because this is often a very awkward scenario for all concerned, the true meaning of a teacher’s comments can be obfuscated in order to avoid offence. We now enter a very vague world, where the subtle uses of the English language, and classic British understatement can be observed. Here is a translation of some of the common phrases a teacher might use:

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“Look, I’m doing my best here. You could give me more support at home, to be honest. For example, you could shave off that freakish moustache that she has got. It’s SO distracting…”

“Your child is doing well”
Your child is very average.

“Your child is very bright”
Clap hands in front of face, call child’s name, snap fingers either side of the head… nope, off with the fairies again.

“Your child is a delight to teach”
I’ve forgotten who your child is. Are we talking about the kid who eats crayons, or the one who laughs too loud?

“Your child has a unique perspective on the world”
Your child lives on an alien planet that orbits a strange star, many light years from our own, judging by the gibberish that pours from their mouth.

“Your child has a very mature outlook on things”
What the fuck have you been letting your child watch on TV??

“Your child contributes to the atmosphere of the classroom”
I offer a sacrifice of thanks to the Influenza-God every time your child is absent due to sickness, thus protecting the classroom from your child’s near-constant screeching and prattling.

“Your child is quite a character!”
Your child is a royal pain in the bum, constantly demanding attention, mucking about, cheeky, disruptive, annoying, and fidgety in the worst possible sense. I’m not allowed to use gags or restraints to strap children down and make them shut up, but in your twat-brat’s case, I will make an exception.
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“Your child is making good progress!”
Your child is making the same amount of progress as everyone else in the class.

“I’m really pleased with your child’s writing this term. It has come on leaps and bounds!”
If you can make head or tail of your kid’s illegible scrawl, I will give you a medal.

“Your child is ahead of the curve!”
Your child IS a fucking curve.

“Your child has a vivid imagination”
Your child’s stories involve blood, guts, animal torture, and sexual depravity, and I have called Social Services.

“It’s the art subjects where your child excels”
Your child draws pictures of your heavy drinking.

“I’m glad that you, as a family, work together to complete homework”
No eight-year-old child can make a working model of a volcano, and I recognise parental handiwork when I see it. You did it all yourself, you bloody cheat.

“It’s great that your child enjoys reading so much…”
If your kid mentions Harry fucking Potter one more time, I’m going to scream. Simple as.

 

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“He seems to have a problem with authori-… you know what? I think I know why”



“We’re all pleased that your child is interested in learning the violin”
It’s twenty minutes, every Tuesday morning, where your child is guaranteed to leave the classroom. I see no bad in this.

“Your child makes valuable contributions to lessons”
Your child repeats your bullshit UKIP opinions at any given opportunity, and the Polish kid on the same table is getting increasingly upset about it.

“Your child has a very strong friendship with _____. They’re quite a team!”
I prefer to keep them apart, to be honest. I don’t like the way they’re always whispering to each other and glaring at me in a meaningful way. I’ve seen Heavenly Creatures. I know how it ends.

“Your child is kind and thoughtful to the younger children in school”
We had to cut Olivia from Caterpillar Class down from the chain-link fence again this week.

“Your child has an independent spirit”
Your child is an argumentative little shitbag.

“Your child is very emotional”
Whenever a thunderstorm is forecast, I do not trust your child to hand out scissors.

“Your child’s interests lie more towards PE and games than academic interests… no, this is a good thing, and I encourage it”
Your kid is an inarticulate thug, but we need them for the school football team because your child is, single-handedly, a one-person terror machine who bulldozes their way through the other school teams in the local area, and usually wins the game for us. Go Bulldogs!!

“Your child is less physical, and more interested in academic pursuits”
Your child is so crap at PE that whenever we give them a ball to kick or throw or catch, the rest of the class (me included) just fall about laughing at their uncoordinated legs and flapping arms.

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“PE is not her best subject, but it’s PE, so who the fuck cares?”

“Your child is very popular amongst their classmates”
Did you know your kid’s nickname is ‘The Bum-arse’?

“Occasionally your child’s focus will wander off-topic…”
If your kid mentions Harry fucking Potter ONE MORE TIME, I swear to God there will be carnage, and innocent people will get hurt.

“Your child is an aggressive bully, who is a nightmare to teach, who doesn’t listen to instruction, who is disruptive and badly-behaved. They are rude, violent, impossible to control thanks to your lack of enforcing discipline at home, they do not do any work, they are lazy and uncooperative, I have to exclude them from lessons on a regular basis, and they eat their lunch away from other students. They are banned from the playground at lunchtimes, they are not allowed on any more school trips, and the Head has been required to intervene on a number of occasions.”
It’s 8pm, I’ve had a long day, and you are the last parents I’m seeing this evening. Fuck diplomacy.

“I’m very grateful for all the support you give your child at home”
Please stop harassing me in the playground when you come to collect your kid. I know how to do my job.

“Your child is doing fine. There’s nothing to worry about.”
Your child is doing fine. There’s nothing to worry about.

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If you’re a parent, and you are experiencing Parents’ Evening at the moment, then I wish you good luck. But if you hear bad news about your kid, don’t blame the teacher. They’re doing a difficult job as it is, without you getting pissy at them for telling the truth about your blessed offspring.

If you’re a teacher, and you are experiencing Parents’ Evening, then I wish you good luck, and plenty of restorative cups of tea to get you through the ordeal.

The Hell of DIY Part III: Painting the Living Room

It has been a while since I’ve posted in this series. For a fuller picture of my staggering DIY expertise, please read the previous episodes:

The Hell of DIY part I

The Hell of DIY part II (WARNING: some serious shit goes down in this episode)

So here is a step-by-step guide on painting the living room. Hopefully, after reading this, you too can have the confidence to slap paint around and wonder why pros charge a fucking fortune.

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The dream…
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…the reality.

THE PLANNING

1. Buy house. It is an ex-rental property. Some of the people who have lived there have not been the most naturally clean of folk. Decide, before the move is complete, that the living room needs redecorating, and the carpet is awful. It was originally green, but years of students and young professionals have rendered it beer-stained and filthy. No amount of carpet shampooing will work on this. It has to go.

2. After ten years (including a marriage, the birth of your child, and a career change for both of you), the carpet has taken a further hammering. You have contributed spillages to the carpet that leave stains that will never truly disappear (wine, coffee, Bolognese sauce, overturned ashtrays, dropped pizzas, mud, and then there was the incident when your child was potty training and… yeah, didn’t quite get there in time), and the carpet is now a sort of marbled green-and-brown-and-grey-and-foul. It’s disgusting. The walls are scuffed, marked, and permanently scarred, with chips and dents in the plasterwork. The paint on the woodwork is yellowing, cracked, and peeling. If an estate agent valued the house, he or she would say that the house is in (dire) need of updating.

3.You choose a Monday evening (while watching Masterchef) to announce loudly to your wife that you have decided to start on decorating the front room in the next six months, and that you both need to have a conversation about ideas.

4. Your wife looks up from her laptop, stares at you blankly, presses a few keys and twiddles her mousepad, and then swivels the laptop around for you to see a folder on her desktop saying ‘Living Room Ideas’. Within it is ten years’ worth of sketches, photos from the internet, several links to Pinterest boards, photographs of your living room with Photoshop edits to try out different colours on the walls and floor, several articles from the internet about interior design ideas, and links to various DIY and home furnishing sites. She then directs you to hours of recorded TV programmes about DIY decorating and house interiors, some of which you realise you have watched over the last few years, and that your wife has dropped massive hints about how the front room should look.

5.Your wife also reminds you that she has always hated the carpet, she is chronically embarrassed about having people round to visit, especially other mums, because she hates having to apologise for the state of the carpet, and she has been waiting for this to happen for a decade. She starts talking about it, and you realise some of the things she is saying are sounding like she’s said many times before. She starts talking about colour co-ordination (not for the first time, either) and you start to feel stressy about it, so you agree to talk about it another time.

6. You spend the next three months discussing how the room should look. You bat about ideas about furniture, rearrangement, storage, and colour of the walls. By the time you get round to discussing the colour, your head hurts, so you agree to talk about it another time.

7. You look at websites together, your wife suggests various different ideas about colour, but you’re confused by all the choices (and being male, don’t admit it), so you just grunt approval of her ideas. They sound good to you anyway. She’s got this sorted.

8. You decide that you’re not going to pay someone to do the work. You’re capable of painting and decorating anyway, you’ve done it before, and it will save spending £FUCKME on some bozo to invade your house and listen to horrible commercial radio stations, while you skulk upstairs feeling awkward. Besides, if you do the work, you will earn literally hundreds of Awesome Husband/Father Points from your family. You also hope that being all manly and paint-spattered will be sexy to your wife. Your wife agrees about the awesome points (and probably about the sexiness of it, but she laughs that suggestion off with bogus firmness, even though she so totally is already thinking about sexy painty you), and you start going to DIY stores to pick up colour swatches. Your wife encourages you to picture the room in each of the colours you’re looking at, but you can’t imagine it somehow. Besides, your wife has very clear ideas on the subject, and every time she talks to you about it, it all seems fine, so you voice some vague approval without looking away from the TV.

9. In the weeks leading up to the redecorating, you lie awake at night thinking about the logistics of painting the room – how to protect the furniture, about undercoats, about how to paint around the edges, about putting tape around the wall fixtures. Strangely, you don’t think about the colour of the room, and when you do, you become confused. Anyway, your wife has already thought about it, and she’s got this sorted.

10. One week before painting, you notice the ceiling and realise it could do with a fresh coat of paint. You announce to your wife this realisation. She asks what colour should it be, you shrug and say that white emulsion should be fine. She ponders this, and agrees because it will go well with the colours you have been choosing together. You’re happy with this, especially because it seems your wife has got this sorted.

11. The Saturday before painting starts, you go to the DIY MegaReich and buy enough white paint to coat France. You’re a bit surprised. White paint is more expensive than you imagined. Your wife points out the colour you have both chosen for the walls, and you nod in agreement. It looks fine. Good choice. Your child suddenly and unreasonably wants to choose the colour for the living room, and you fob her off, telling her that it is already chosen, and that Mummy has it sorted. Child sulks. You’re not impressed because, after all, you’ve been discussing this as a family for bloody ages.

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Remember that decorating your living room can add value to your property, and will attract future buyers!!

PAINTING THE UNDERCOAT AND THE CEILING

1. You have got the overalls, the Polyfilla, the dustsheets, the brushes, sandpaper for smoothing out rough bits of Polyfilla, the paint trays, rollers, and the masking tape ready. The day before you start painting, you go out and buy more overalls, Polyfilla, dustsheets, brushes, sandpaper, paint trays, rollers, and masking tape just to be sure.

2. Paint? Check. Overalls on? Check. Cracks Polyfilla’d and sanded down? Check. Roller ready? Check. Paint in paint tray? Check. Radio tuned to either BBC 6Music, BBC Radio 2, or Planet Rock? Check. BEGIN.

3. Ten minutes in realise you haven’t taped around the edges. Fucksocks. Spend over an hour taping around the edges.

4. BEGIN AGAIN after this cup of tea.

5. Ten minutes later, pause painting because the radio is playing Golden Years by David Bowie. Tuuuuuune!

6. Ack! White paint on the bit of carpet that is not covered by dustsheet. You try to sponge it up. White drop turns into white smudge. The carpet is fucked anyway.

7. Pause painting because radio is playing We Built This City by Starship.

8. Realise painting the ceiling is hard. It hurts your back and your arms ache. Ah, fuck it. The ceiling is white already. Resort to just painting the crappy bits.

9. Walls done!

10. Ceiling done in parts!

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Some people take painting the ceiling a bit too far. You go round their house, they show off their ceiling painting skills, and you think “…prick”.

11. Wife and child impressed at all the work you have done. Decide not to tell the wife you left off painting most of the ceiling. White is white, after all.

12. At 8pm, your wife glances at the ceiling and says, “I see you still have most of the ceiling to do”. You look at her incredulously, and then look up. Old white paint that endured several years of you smoking cigarettes in here before child was conceived and you quit, and new white paint that went on today look very different. Fucksocks.

13. Finish painting the ceiling the following day. Have to squint at the ceiling to see which bits look fresh and which bits look very slightly yellow. It’s hard to do this in daylight. The walls look good. Here and there are dark patches showing through the undercoat, but it’ll be fine with a layer of the final colour is put on. Hang on, what is the final colour going to be? Wife seems to have it sorted though.

14. You get white paint spattered on your glasses in tiny droplets. No one will notice, you think. They’re only tiny weeny spots of paint.

15. People subsequently ask you if you’ve been painting the house.

16. You notice that there is more white spots on the carpet. You sponge them into white smudges. The carpet is fucked anyway.

17. So far, so good. Well done. Take the day off.

18. AARGH MY BACK AND ARMS REALLY FUCKING HUUUUURT!! Hot bath, and a backrub from the wife. Hey, these Awesome Husband/Father Points can be cashed in for benefits, you know!

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Me: “Let’s just get a tester pot of each colour and paint the-” Her: “No.” Me: “Oh go on, it’ll lo-” Her: “No.” Me: “You’re no fun.” Her: “No, I’m not.”

PAINTING THE ROOM THE FINAL COLOUR

1. The night before painting the room the final colour, you suddenly have a panicky and recalcitrant brainfart, and whine to your wife that you haven’t been consulted properly on colour choices, and that decisions have been made by her seemingly without your approval. Your wife, who incidentally manages to do this without once rolling her eyes or getting pissy with you, patiently explains that she has attempted to discuss this with you many times over the last ten years, and that each time she has brought the subject up, you have avoided making any decisions due to tiredness, headache, feeling nagged, stress, and busyness at work. This is bullshit. In reality you have the attention span of a child, and a complete lack of interest in interior design and colour co-ordination.

2. Wife then once again explains her ideas, and how she has gone through various colour choices based on furniture, carpet, storage, curtains, cushions, and whether or not the final result means a complete change of upholstery in the entire room. You then present your ideas, which means you bung every colour of the rainbow at your wife, and she (through gritted teeth) explains why she has previously done this with you while you were more interested in watching old episodes of Top Gear for the umpteenth time, and received grunts of assent in response. You wail that the colour has been chosen as a fait accompli. Your wife says that she assumed your prior grunts of approval signified agreement and consent.

3. “What’s more”, she says, “I spent several hours showing you my Pinterest wall, and you kept saying “That’s great!” in the tone you use when you don’t understand a single word of the concept that’s being presented to you.”

4. You then have a slightly tense conversation where you go through each colour swatch again, with you imagining the room in each colour (which is hard for your to do, as you lack the ability to visualise the room in a potential colour in the first place), and conclude that while you would be prepared to live in either a) a deep red Edwardian brothel; b) a tropical blue frigidarium; c) a psychedelic nightmare, your wife and child will probably not be. In the end (at around 11pm) you see wisdom in compromise, and you accept that painting the room in some random colour would result in changing all of the furnishings, otherwise the room would look like a frazzled, colour-blind disaster. You eventually choose a colour which your wife accepts on the basis that it was the colour she had planned all along.

5. You suddenly realise later with great shock, at 2am, that your wife has spent three hours of her Monday evening in order to successfully convince you that her idea was really your idea, and that thinking about it, quite a lot of family decisions have come about this way. Wife is evil and cunning genius. You try to complain about the unfairness of this and your wife snarls at you to shut up and get some sleep because you have a fuckload of money to spend on new paint, and a good deal of painting to get on with tomorrow morning.

6. Go to DIY MegaReich first thing in the morning in your paint-spattered clothes. Feel like a proper grown-up man buying paint and stuff. You see other men in paint-spattered clothes who have clearly just come from their own sites. You nod at each other as paint-spattered clan brothers. Spend a fortune on the chosen colour that you totally chose with your wife’s help.

7. BEGIN PAINTING after cup of tea… ooh, and then after they finish playing The Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society on the radio

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…and then Motorhead came on the radio.

8. FINISHED.

9. Not finished. When the paint dries, you notice dark patches still showing through.

10. Wife and child impressed by first coat. More Awesome Points (and more back rubs? “Don’t push it, you’re not done yet”. Damnity-damn.)

11. Wife not that impressed by spots of colour on the carpet. You point out that the carpet is fucked anyway. As long as she doesn’t notice the smudge on the back of the sofa from where you didn’t cover it properly with the dustsheet, you should be fine.

12. Second coat applied.

13. Dark patch remains.

14. Third coat applied on the wall with the dark patch.

15. Dark patch appears intermittently depending on lighting conditions.

16. Thick splodge of paint directly onto the roller, and applied liberally and angrily to dark patches. More paint on carpet due to careless paint application. You really do not care anymore, not even enough to sponge it into a smudge.

17. FINALLY!!! (I think)

PAINTING THE WOODWORK

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Can you think of anything more “Dad” than painting a door?

1. Now to the woodwork. Fuck. This means getting primer and gloss paint. Hate gloss paint. Hate gloss paint smell, hate gloss paint stains, and hate gloss paint stickyness.

2. Remove masking tape from woodwork. Apply masking tape to edges of wall instead. Putting on masking tape is fiddly and sticky and horribad and u is hating it and want 2 di now plskthxbye.

3. Should you sand down the door before repainting it?
*sigh* OK then…
Should you put on an undercoat of primer before repainting it? Naaaahh….

4. Gloss paint, ugh. Gloss paint, yuk. Gloss paint not really covering the door in one coat, and streaky bits of old paint still showing through.

5. Wife and child home. Impressed by results, so YAY for that. They are not impressed by gloss paint getting on the carpet that cannot be sponged up. Carpet now looking like Jackson Pollock has taken a shit on it, spilled wine and Bolognese on it, walked on it in muddy shoes, knocked an ashtray or two over, and not painted it. If he had, carpet would be worth millions. Hate carpet.

6. Can’t paint today, you have to go into work. Come home to find child on Playstation and wife painting the second coat onto the door and skirting boards. Feel love for wife, despite her robbing you of Awesome Points. Following morning, you pull masking tape off the wall, and successfully peel off layers of paint right down to plasterwork. Cry slightly, and carefully repaint the walls with tiny splotches of the final colour whilst trying (and mostly succeeding) to not get paint onto the newly coated skirting boards.

7. Woodwork done. It then takes more than two weeks for the painty smell to vanish, and that’s with liberal uses of incense, smelly candles, curries, open windows, air freshener, pungent farting, etc.

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Looking good so far! Just need to hang pictures, and we’re done!!

THE FINISHING TOUCHES

1. Wife hangs pictures. Asks what you think. Realise she has totally co-ordinated the colour of your pictures, sofas, cushions, walls, fixtures and fittings. It’s like she has been planning this carefully for years. You put the painting you inherited from your grandmother on the wall – the properly old painting that looks suspiciously expensive (really must get it valued if I ever go on The Antiques Roadshow, and perfect the ‘OMG KERCHINGGG!!!’ face), and has a gilded frame that is camper than a boat full of gay pantomime sailors doing a dance routine about Judy Garland. It also makes the room look well posh, like a slightly tatty National Trust property. Wife is brilliant. Feel love for wife.

2. Go to Carpet MegaEmpire to choose a new carpet. Wife says this is the day she has spent a decade waiting for. She says this quietly and looks out of the car window. Decide that a green carpet would suit the colour of the room. Get to Carpet MegaEmpire only find sweaty carpet salesman regretfully informing you that green is not a fashionable colour right now, and that beige and brown is more de rigueur. Wife doesn’t so much as twitch an eyelid, just turns on her heel and leaves sweaty salesman to watching his commission go strollin’ away like a boss. You search through every carpet retailer in town. You find a green carpet eventually, and your wife gets a new carpet that she will love for years to come. She even says, “We might have to take our shoes off in the front room”. Fuck that, you think. You plan to swim on the carpet when it arrives. Carpet swimming on newly-installed carpet fucking rules!

3. Room done. Walls painted. Carpet chosen. You need shelves put up, but that’s another job for another time. For now, behold the majesty of your new room, bask in the glow of a job well done, enjoy the well-earned Awesome Husband/Father Points and all the benefits that can be accrued, and admire your brilliant wife. Wife points out the dining room needs doing.

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“I’ll Be There For Yoooouuu…”

Oh dear. I’m officially stumped as a parent. I thought I’ve come across most things by now, but we’ve entered into uncharted territory, and I haven’t got a map. I should be used to this by now, the eleventh rule of parenting being: Never Get Complacent (next to #10: Expect The Unexpected; and #12: Get Used To The Smell).

Alice is nearly eight years old now, and in common with many eight-year-olds, she’s having issues with friends. Without going into too much detail, Alice is discovering that friends are not always consistently friendly, which is rich coming from a girl who likes engaging with other people, and then sods off unexpectedly to go and talk to flowers by herself. She is, however, very sensitive to people being mean to her, and she and her classmates are getting to the age where random acts of deliberate spite are creeping more and more into everyday life.

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“You’ve got more pearls than me”  “That’s because my parents are better than yours”

Of course, Alice tells me this, and I’m buggered if I know what to do. Look, I know friendships. I do have friends, of course. I’ve made many friends over the years, and lost a few, but I’m lucky enough to have a bunch of mates I can always call on for matey business. However, I’m really not good with people. I don’t understand people. I like to think I do, but I really don’t, and I’m frequently bothered by this. People are weird, aren’t they? Strange little sacks of meat and bone and guts, held together with skin, and driven by unfathomable emotions and selfish desires. On one hand, I’m capable of causing anger and misery with just four poorly-chosen words. On the other, good-natured people have been known to cause me sleepless nights with jocular banter that I have taken far too literally. I am prone to wildly misunderstand people, even the best people at the best of times, because of something that was said that caused my circuits to fuse. So I’m at a loss how to give advice to Alice.

Unfortunately, a few months ago, Alice’s BFF told her she didn’t want Alice to hang around with her so much. Alice’s heartbreak at this has been considerable, and sad to witness. Poor kid took it well at first, but as the reality sunk in, she has become despondent. And it’s bothering me, because Alice is not being her usual type of upset. Traditionally, Alice being upset would involve copious tears, theatrical soliloquies about loss and friends and woe, and hand-to-brow flinging herself onto carefully-positioned sofa cushions. This time, it’s different. Alice is displaying a quiet melancholy about the end of the friendship. She isn’t talking about it much, which is very unusual. She is sombre and thoughtful, and I believe the loss of her friend has caused something a lot more profound and fundamental, and may well leave a permanent scar on Alice’s psyche. BFF has moved on, and Alice has learned that BF’s are not necessarily F. It’s a hard, difficult, painful, but necessary lesson to learn.

Above all, I’m loathe to involve myself in any of Alice’s friendships. I don’t think it’s a great idea for parents to interfere with their child’s relationships with other people in any way. I’d even go so far as to say it’s not a good idea to go to the lengths of forbidding your child from hanging round with another child, even if the friend is something of a malignant influence, but then, Alice hasn’t made friends with anyone I’ve disapproved of and I’ve not been in that situation, so how I would react is anyone’s guess (though I’m really looking forward, in a decade or so, to all the future spotty and awkward teenage boyfriends I’m going to thoroughly disapprove of and bully. Hee-hee!).

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Girl on the right: “Isn’t it time you found a new friend? You bore me.” Girl on the left: “…! [the cruelty of the world]”

C.S. Lewis once said that “Friendship is born at that moment where one person says to another: ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one!’ “. Childhood friendships are strange things. I am of an age where I struggle to remember how my own childhood friendships worked. Being a boy, I generally bonded with people over topics such as Star Wars and the humourous potential of bums. Also being a boy, a lot of childhood games sometimes erupted into fights, most of them jolly, some of them not. I didn’t really have girls who were friends of mine until much later, because as we all know, Girls Have Diseases.

And those girls who were friendly towards me in my pre-pubescent years were treated with a degree of meanness, because I was that kind of little turd. As such, I’m not very good on the friendships that young girls have. Even now, girl friendships are sometimes a complete mystery to me. A lot of them seem to be a bonding of two people who need comfort against a hostile world. The boy friendships in Alice’s class appear to be shouty and involve punching and yelling. The girl friendships seem to be a seething mass of resentments, hierarchy, snobbery and bitching, interspersed with breathless joy at shared imaginary scenarios.

Alice’s own friendship issues possibly lie with her being an only child. She is very particular about what games to play, how to play them, and how to get other people involved. If other people join in, Alice can be quite reluctant to accept that the game becomes a collaborative effort. Alice demands that people play the game according to Alice’s often-changing rules, and strict adherence to the ongoing narrative of the game, neither of which gets explained by Alice beforehand. Thus a chum might often bring their own element to the improv, which will exasperate our girl to the point of irritation. Alice then takes off and starts talking to the chain-link fencing, leaving chum somewhat bewildered.

Of course it works the other way: Alice will join in on someone’s game, be unclear about the rules, doesn’t ask how the game is played and instead makes up her own rules, and then is outraged when people tell her to play the game properly. She doesn’t yet have a sense of irony, poor kid.

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It was at that moment that Emily became a Goth.

So there I am, yesterday afternoon, with an uncharacteristically sombre Alice slowly explaining to me her friendship issues. I could only respond as an adult, which probably wasn’t helpful to her as a child. Alice told me all of this in a very quiet voice, because she didn’t want people to know, and she didn’t want people to get the wrong idea. And then she told me, without being aware that she was inconsistent, that she had already explained her predicament to a dozen or so of her friends, and her teacher.

“I thought you didn’t want people to know about this?”, I said.

“I don’t”.

“You’ve told half the class!”

She looked furtively around the room in case anyone was listening. There were only two of us, and it was our living room. “Yes, but I’ve told them to keep it quiet”, she whispered.

Oh boy. Let’s hope they don’t behave like twats about this (no, that’s not fair; they’re not twats, just kids, and they’re generally nice kids, but they may turn out to be typical kids and be a bit horrid to her for a bit. Let’s hope not).

In essence, Alice actually seems to have sorted this out by herself by going to her teacher who brokered a compromise between all parties. I’m really proud of her. Of course, she told me about this friendship problem after she had sorted it, which is brilliant, but also leaves me as being just the bozo at the end of the day to whom she explains the day’s narrative. Yes, I’m irrelevant.

Let’s hope she can still sit down and talk with me in this way when she’s 14, and there’s a whole Brave New World of hormones, boys, spots, fashion, body image, and miserable music to contend with. I haven’t even thought about cyberbullying and sexting yet! Oh crap

In a way, I’m sort of jealous that she has told about a dozen people before coming to me (including her class teacher, who incidentally has handled it pretty well), but I’m also really pleased that she has handled a difficult problem, by herself, in possibly the best and most mature way possible. Long may it continue.

But then again, I shouldn’t be all that surprised or bothered that she hasn’t consulted me on friendships. I’m not her friend. I’m her Daddy.

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You know you can come to me and tell me about absolutely anything. And I’ve got a couple of CDs by The Smiths you can borrow for when you’re older.

A Lack of Dad

This year marks 15 years since my Dad passed away. The old gent would probably be tickled to learn that I’ve married someone superb, and have a splendid, imaginative and chatty daughter, although him being him, he’d probably tell her to stop prattling so much. God knows, I’ve been tempted to.

The reason I don’t tell her to shut up is because, well, I’m not my Dad. That’s not to say that he wasn’t a great Dad – he was – it’s just that I don’t go for his style of parenting. I try not to be impatient, or angry all the time, or a strict table-manners kind of guy, and I don’t want to hit my kid to punish her. OK, so I’ve sometimes failed at numbers 1 to 3, or at least made a confused and inconsistent bash at them, but #4 is still holding strong.

Before we go any further, I don’t want to give you the impression that my old man was an abusive monster. He wasn’t. He just had an explosive temper. Also, remember this was thirty years ago, and parenting styles have changed beyond recognition. The idea that kids were to be brought up with ‘positive reinforcement’ and talking through conflicts to resolve issues was embraced by some, but regarded with horror by most parents of the time. You punished the kid. You yelled at them. Some form of slapping or physical chastisement was used as a punitive correction. It was normal then.

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Dads back then be like: “Sit up straight, or I will kill you.”

Nowadays we make the kid think about the consequences of their actions, and give them time to calm down when there has been some sort of infraction. We get our kids to rationalise what they have done, and how they can ensure it doesn’t happen again. And we never shout.

(Yeah, yeah. To be honest, we don’t always do that, do we? We all have bad days. Yeah, I lose it occasionally and yell at my kid. So do you. Positive reinforcement doesn’t come naturally when you’re tired and pissed off, and it takes so much effort to sit down with the kid and rationalise their temper-tantrum bullshit. Yes, I’ve probably traumatised my child through shouting at her. She’ll get over it eventually, or have counseling like everyone else).

In a way, the contrast between my Dad and my style of parenting is characterised by fear. He had the capacity to scare me with his temper. And because of that experience, I also fear that what I do has an impact on my daughter, and can have a negative effect.  I don’t think I’m alone in that – in fact, I’d go so far as to say there’s a general state of fear amongst other parents of my generation for the very same reason. I do sometimes wonder if my Dad considered that what he did to punish me would have a lifelong affect on me? I never asked him. He died long before I became a parent, and that’s the problem.

You see, I wish he was still around for many reasons. Sometimes I wish he could give me advice on being an adult, sometimes I wish I could ask him about his own childhood in the 1940s and 50s. Sometimes I wish I could go to him for job-related advice. Sometimes I wish I could talk to him more about jazz or engineering. And sometimes I wish I could confront him and finally demand to know why he thought that smacking his children that hard was a really good parenting tactic.

 

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I typed “Daddy smacking” into Google images, and… well… I saw some things that I cannot now unsee. This image is the first one I came across that was Safe For Work, and even then, it is still a bit kinky. Sorry. I shall therefore continue to conduct my Google search into Daddy Smacking but probably not until everyone else has gone to bed.

Above all, I wish he was around so that I could ask the one Dad I knew well when I was growing up exactly how to be a Dad.

Even after seven years of being a father, I still hit brick walls. I cannot comprehend certain things. I get stuck. And above all, I feel I’m doing this without anyone telling me how to do it. My operating manual on being a father was my Dad, and I now have to rely on the memory of his parenting, without asking him for his insight on how he did it. My mum is still around (and in pretty much better shape than the rest of the family), and she’s fantastic in all things… but she wasn’t a father. She was there, she witnessed me growing up, but she didn’t see things from the perspective of a father. Being a mother back then was more… well, it was more traditional I suppose. She stayed at home until I was about 8 years old.

My Dad, although reasonably liberal, was not a reconstructed man. He apparently refused to do nappies. He didn’t do evening meals (thank God. The only thing he could cook was a sort of minced-meat-and-rice thing, and he only made that for us after my parents’ separation, and he had moved into a flat, and had to cook for himself as a matter of survival). He wasn’t there for us when we came home from school. He didn’t really take us for days out by himself until my parents got divorced. That’s just how Dads were back then. Unthinkable now.

In all of those respects, I’m the opposite, and I think my daughter benefits from it in many ways. She and I have what I think is a pretty good relationship. She responds to my commands (usually after two or three repetitions), and when she’s in a particularly reasonable mood, she can articulate herself in debate. Sometimes she challenges my decisions, judgements, or punishments. Sometimes, when she can back up her protests with a reasoned argument, I’ll allow her legitimate complaint to overrule my decision. That never would have happened 30 years ago. You just didn’t challenge your parents. Either that, or my father’s ego would not have allowed the challenge to his authority.

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I dunno if my Dad wanted to be a genial, pipe-smoking sort of chap, but to be honest, I definitely do. Of course, Sarah and Alice would be horrified at the idea of me chuffing away on a pipe, but I totally would. I absolutely totally would.

I’m pretty sure my father suffered from a form of clinical depression. And I wish he could have come to terms with it, and talked about it with me. I wish he and I could have sat down and had an honest discussion about his mental state, but I don’t think the conventions of his own upbringing, and the perceived society reaction to a man with depression back then would have allowed it (it’s difficult enough as it is in these enlightened times). He couldn’t allow himself to be vulnerable, and so he disguised it with frustration and anger. Ironically of course, that just exposed himself to more vulnerabilities.

I mean, it didn’t help that he was permanently ill. What with type-1 diabetes from the age of 12, and subsequently cancer, a heart bypass operation, circulation troubles, and his limbs slowly numbing, it can’t have been easy. If I had that sort of long-term, incurable illness-thing that you know will lead to a truncated life and serious associated health problems, with additional life-threatening illnesses on the side, I’d be fucked off too.

I must stress again, he wasn’t a monstrous, abusive, violent bastard. He was an impatient man, and it would boil over, sometimes without any justification. He was also a clever man with a drive to succeed, and a good work ethic. He was fair. He taught me what was right, what was wrong, and about taking responsibility. He taught me about society’s corruption, and what is morally correct. He was all about justice and reason. He was all about history, and engineering, and creativity, and fun. So what if he pontificated sometimes? I still do it – fuck it, this whole blog is one big pompous rant in weekly instalments.

He was rarely drunk, but liked going out and having fun. He wasn’t a fan of big crowds, but loved people individually and saw his friends often. He cared about things. He loved. He was affectionate, and not afraid to show it. He loved model railways. He loved jazz. He was a good musician, and played the double bass with a number of reasonably well-known jazz performers. He loved comedy, and had a good sense of silly. There is a lot he gave me to aspire to.

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My father never took me fishing. He took me on the footplate of an actual moving steam locomotive instead, which was, like, 10000 times better.

Sarah never met him. We got together three months after he died. She’s never had a father-in-law, and I think, barring the occasional ideological shouting matches where he would’ve ended up with a grudging respect for her, they would have got on famously. She deserves to have a decent father-in-law, and she hasn’t got one.

He was 58 when he died. That’s nothing, far too young these days. He should be 73 and curmudgeonly. I’m only 40 now. If I was in his shoes, I’d have only 18 years of life left. That’s too short. He crammed in a lot in a relatively short space of time. I need to do more.

There is a gap in my sense of fatherhood, and that gap is my Lack of Dad. If that gap were filled, if he were still around, would I still be the same father? Would we live in this house? Would he be the loving and amiable grandfather I suspect he had the potential to be? Or would he have been just as prone to burst into a rage as always, only this time, he’d terrify my daughter. If he had, would I have stood up to him, calmed him down, or berated him for his lack of patience? I like to think I would have at the very least.

I wish I could ask him about stuff. Just call him up and have all the mysteries explained to me. In the fifteen years he’s been gone, I have imagined myself talking to him. I ask him questions that can never be answered:

How did you do fatherhood?

Who or what influenced you as a father?

Where did you get your parenting ideas from?

What were the expectations society forced upon you?

What guidance did you get?

What was the prevailing opinion on bringing up children?

What was I like as a child?

What did I do that frustrated you?

What did I do that amused you, or made you proud?

After you had lost your temper, did you feel as though you’d achieved the right response?
Or did you ever regret your impatience?

Did you really have to hit that hard? Did it ever really stop me from doing naughty things?

Were you depressed? Why couldn’t you talk to me about it?

Were you really angry all the time? Or did it just seem that way?

Do you think I’m now doing things wrong as a parent, or do you envy the things that I and other parents can do with our kids?

The thing is, his answers are always my own invention. What a rotten swizz.

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“There’s more to it than just putting your penis in a woman and ejaculating”.  My father’s actual advice to me, when I was 11. No, I’m not joking. Thanks Dad, I’ll bear it in mind.

I want to know the differences between growing up in the 1940s and 50s, starting a family and raising the family in the 70s and 80s, and what I’m doing now. There are people I could ask, sure, but they’re not my father. Only he and I know what it would be like to bridge that generational chasm, and it’s something I’m desperate to know, but can never really be satisfactorily addressed.

 

What he has provided me with is manifold and profound. In a way, his death made me the man I am now. His absence has meant that I have:

  • Developed the ability to bring my kid up in my own way
  • The space in which I can improvise parenthood skills
  • Navigating fatherhood without his guidance has left me with self-reliance. However frustrating it has been for me, this is a good thing in the long term
  • A sense of achievement. I’ve done this without any help or guidance from him. I’m a Dad, and have done this without a word of advice from him
  • He was a good role-model as a father. I’ve just tried to copy the good things he did, and he’s given me just enough examples of crap parenting so that I know what to avoid
  • Above all he was my father. He gave me a template to build on. In many ways, I’ve succeeded and surpassed him. In others, I need to do more. Curiously, the stuff I need to work at is more about having fun and being silly than discipline.

There is barely a mention of him on the internet. His footprint is in the memories people have of him. His ashes were scattered in a place where they could be carried away, and there is no gravestone or plaque anywhere. All he is now is some photographs, and – unusual, I know – an oil painting of him playing his double bass in concert. The template he provided moulded me into shape, but he left me no operating instructions, other than all the joy and pain he showed me.

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I typed my Dad’s name into Google Images, and found this. It’s good to know his name will live on.

And like all sons of their fathers, I intend to expand where possible, trim where necessary, and reshape that mould until it shapes my own daughter. I hope she can be able to ask both myself and Sarah how to adult when she’s older. And I hope she learn from me how to parent in years to come.

And I want to be there with her.

The Morning Fight

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“Now, if I just put this top on you, it’ll restrict your arms so you can’t smack me in the face anymore.”

Ugh. Every morning, it’s a struggle. And I don’t want to generalise, but I’m guessing that if you’re a parent, you probably have a pretty horrific experience most mornings. It’s a battle of wills between child and parent, more profound than the bedtime ritual, which, you may recall, we’ve got down almost perfectly. The Morning Fight is pressured by the urgency of the School Run, and hampered by a sense of fatigue and anger that is common to the human mindset, just twenty minutes after being roused from blissful sleep.

I suppose that’s the same for many families, although in our case, there are a few idiosyncrasies that I suspect are not that common amongst your typical 2.4 households:

  1. In our house, it’s usually me who gets Alice up and ready for school. Because we’re a trendy, modern, liberal family living in the Century of the Fruitbat, Sarah is the one gulping down scalding coffee and dashing out the door with toast in her hand. I’m the one who does the morning routine. This is less of a task than it used to be because Alice can get dressed all by herself these days. I put together the breakfast, and after that all I am is her personal coach, bellowing instructions and exhortations to hurry up from the sidelines.
  2. Alice does not eat cereal in the conventional sense. Most kids will have a bowl of something unnecessarily sugary (and salty), with lashings of milk and mess. Alice prefers to have dry porridge oats and a teaspoon of honey which she then eats, oat-by-oat, until she’s eaten about three cubic centimetres, and then she professes to be finished. Except there are days, which cannot be forecast, where she wolfs down the oats and demands seconds. Recently, the oats have been replaced by multiple satsumas as her chosen brekkie. This is handy because: a) it’s really easy to prepare; b) it’s really easy to tidy away.

You’re not going to like the next two. In fact you’ll probably hate us for it.

  1. Alice is an only child. So we only have to wrestle one child into getting ready. I rock up to the school gates with my fellow mum-chums, who roll their eyes at their howling multiple charges and regale me with tales of breakfast-table-fights and struggles with four pairs (or more) of feet to be shoe’d. I nod sympathetically, hiding any trace of gloating smugness (I am a natural gloater. Anyone who has played me at chess, Monopoly, or seen me at a pub quiz will know that I cannot accept victory without whispering ‘booyah, motherfucker!’ in my opponents’ faces), and quietly praising Allah that I do not have to be an octopus wrangler/UN peace negotiator every morning. My one child is enough at breakfast time.

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    “COME ON… we’re late enough as it is!… will you just… stop it… come quickly or we’ll… come on NOW!… 5!…4!…3…!…2- will you stop it??!… YOU’RE MAKING ME LATE FOR…! Right. That does it. No Playstation for a whole-… COME ON! NOW!… STOP RUNNING AWAY FROM ME AND LAUGHING… Right, you can WALK YOURSELF to School!…. AWWW Come onnnnnn, kids!”
  2. We’ve actually trained Alice pretty well. She gets up at daybreak with comparative ease and very little fuss. That’s not to say that at various points of her childhood we didn’t have a war zone every morning, but Alice has learned that there are other, more crucial battles to fight, and the morning routine is too short and too pressured, and basically not worth the hassle. So I no longer have to force her into clothes she doesn’t want to wear, she just puts on her school uniform. I don’t have to twist her body into a shirt, or pin her to the floor using CIA-approved incapacitation methods in order to get her trousers on. And tights? Jeeeeesus. Tights are the worst. I don’t have to dodge thrashing feet in order to put socks on. I don’t get kicked in the balls if I have to ram shoes onto her squirming feet. Oh, I did use to do all of that, and it was horrible, but I don’t have to any more. Alice just gets dressed in five minutes (usually).

We have bad days, like anyone. We’re only human. She’s quite a laid-back kinda gal, but the other day, Alice decided to have a “go-slow” protest for no apparent reason. Thus, she came down the stairs, one at a time, and proceeded to eat her satsumas veeerrrrrryyyyy sllllooooooowwwwwlllllly. She then was not prepared for school, and  then took ages getting her shit together (book bag, PE kit, coat, gloves, etc). I was not happy. But we still managed to get to school before her class had lined up in the playground. In fact, I think she has only been late three times since September.

There is one part of the whole morning ritual which is still a battleground. Alice’s hair. Alice has very fine hair, but for some reason, a night’s sleep results in a head of hair that is more tangled than a scary Disney forest. Consequently, any effort to tame it results in Alice behaving as though she is undergoing torture. First, she eyes the hairbrush with fear, and she does this hilarious “no… n-n-no!” thing and quaking that she has learned from films. Second, when hair is being brushed, she writhes and screams and yells  with every stroke. Sure, her hair is properly tangled and has some really incredible knots in it; and yes, I always worry our neighbours are listening and about to call social services, but she does rather make a theatrical performance of it, for example: “YOU ARE KILLING ME!! HELP! STOP KILLING ME DADDY!”

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“AAAAAARGH!!! Will you STOP THAT?? OWWWWW! It’s caught in a knot!! I’ll remember this when I’m a teenager!! OW! Get off me, motherfucker!”… Hmmm. Really must stop watching The Wire when she’s in earshot of the TV in the kitchen.

(I imagine the neighbours, who I always think are listening to every row in our house with their ears pressed to the wall, calling the abuse hotline, and stern Men-In-Black agents swooping in through the windows and rescuing Alice. In my interrogation, they shine bright lights into my eyes: “And what precisely were you doing to cause so much needless agony to a seven-year-old?”
I was… brushing her hair.
“Brushing her hair? You BRUSHED HER HAIR?”
It is quite knotty…
“And you’ve been doing this… how often?”
Errrmmm… every morning before school…?
“You unspeakable monster!”
I am arrested, charged, and put on trial. Sarah divorces me in a nanosecond. Alice is taken away from me and is fostered by a loving couple who take her to live on a farm full of lambs and puppies. Meanwhile, I am released from prison-gulag and come home to find “hare-brushng scum liv heer” sprayed on my front door, and a well-organised chanting mob of local parents, including some of the mums from the school run – yeah, thanks a lot, guys – who yell at me through the letter box at night
).

In any case, the brushing of Alice’s hair involves quite a bit of thrashing around and shouting. Sometimes we have a bottle of hair-detangler that says it smells of strawberries, but actually smells of pink, but we’ve lost it and Tesco don’t seem to sell it. So the battle goes on, day after day.

Well, it did until recently. One day, fed up with having the hairbrush torture-battle every morning, and nursing a sore back, I gave up, snapped “You do it, then!” and gave her the hairbrush, to which she then finished off with only the merest of self-inflicted whimpering. And so it has become my new tactic, to give her the hairbrush and get her to sort it out herself. This is fine, except her technique is lacking. She does it really slowly and cautiously, which can be irritating if we’re running late. And instead of a perfectly groomed head, she misses bits. Thus, the other day, because we were out of time, I took her to school with the front and sides done, but the back untouched by brush. She looked as though her hair had burst out of her head, and that she was walking round with a tiny blonde cloud following her around.

Actually, and I’m sorry to say this, but on reflection, the morning routine is now pretty slick. OK, so we’ve had some pretty massive rows in order to get there, but once breakfast and grooming is done, I can rely on Alice to get herself together while I disappear to the toilet to get my morning dump on. Then we walk to school, and that is far and away my favourite bit. We have chats or early-morning contemplations, and then it’s the hurly-burly of the morning playground, my chat with the mums, and then off to work. It has taken us years to get here, but I think we’ve got it down.

Actually, it’s not a Morning Fight at all. I’ve got it fucking easy! It’s a Morning Pleasure. OK, it’d be nice to not have the hair-tangles, but overall, it’s quality time with my kid. For the most part it is disciplined and easy. It’s fun and we can do it together, and in many ways I’m not looking forward to the day when she walks to school by herself, but by then it’ll be fine. HA! I’ve got this one licked! BOOYAH, MOTHERFUCKERS!!!

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Sorry… sorry… done it again… I know, it’s a bad habit… must stop doing this…sorry…

Daddy Got Back

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You know what is currently a massive pain to me? My lower back. As with most of my encroaching health issues, it’s somehow my own fault.

If we humans just did very little, other than walking around a bit, eating 5 bits of fruit per day, breathing clean air, drank two litres of water, and ate a balanced meal three times a day, we’d be fine and live forever. But no, life doesn’t work like that. Life instead makes bad food delicious, smoking addictive, human existence polluting to our atmosphere, drinking alcohol fun, and bending over to pick things up easier than using your knees.

This is what I’ve done to myself. After a life of playing in bands, carrying heavy loads, and not keeping my back straight and using my knees to pick up things in those crucial early years, I’m being repaid in full by having a bad back. In fact, having a bad back has been going on longer than actually having a good back.

It’s another, rather boring and predictable sign that my body is slowly packing up. I’ve currently got a ticklist of minor ailments: Short-sightedness, permanent tinnitus, clicky joints, this bad back, occasional chest pains, and a weird ache in my right shoulder that has been going on for months.

Of course, the annoying thing about having a bad back is not just limited to the spasms of OW FUCK FUCK FUCK SHIT that I get from time to time. No, the annoying thing is, it seems that everyone who knows me knows that I have a bad back. And they won’t let me forget it, which bugs me for two reasons: One, because I’m not the sort of person who likes being nagged about stuff or told to be careful; and two, they don’t really need to tell me because my back reminds me of its sensitivity in no uncertain terms. In fact, it often reminds me that I have a bad back long before anyone else gives me a reminder, and often about the stupidest things. My current back predicament has come about thanks to me picking up a plastic bag of tin cans that were destined for recycling.

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Loads of things I want to do in life now come with a muttered comment of “and be careful with your back” from someone. It’s usually Sarah, but it can also include bandmates, family members, chums, and work colleagues. I can’t bend over at the waist to pick up the smallest thing without someone screeching “BEND YOUR KNEES!” at me. Of course, the irony is that now my knees are beginning to hurt if I bend them too hurriedly, or for too long. So now I have the choice of bad back or bad knees.

Having a bad back is not something I’m proud of. Yes, sometimes it gets me out of doing the odd bit of manual labour, and sometimes people rush to my aid when they see me struggling with something awkward, but I’d rather not. I’d rather be there with everyone else – lifting the heavy things, carrying the awkward stuff, doing my bit, helping out, being part of the team. I feel somewhat diminished as a man if someone interrupts my task, takes something away from me, and tells me to go and sit in the corner and rest myself. I’d far rather be the heroic type, struggling through the pain, sweating manfully as my muscles strain, and doing all the impressive lifting, rather than lying on my bedroom floor doing Doctor’s-Orders exercises and taking industrial-strength painkillers.
Case in point: about 12 years ago, I was gigging with a band in a bar. Sarah and I weren’t yet married, and obviously, I wanted to be impressive and rock-n’-roll in front of her (still do!). My back had been playing up, and I was not very comfortable, but I was manfully, and with great bulging muscles and plenty of heroic sweat, going to play a proper full-on rock show with my boys and blow people away with our onstage energy, and I was determined to put on a good performance. The other guys in the band had done the you-just-sit-there-while-we-set-things-up-Dan-you-rest-your-back, which was kind, but it meant that they had set up my keyboards all wrong, the stand at the wrong height, and I was in a really tight corner of the stage. I had been terribly British about it, and said that the set-up was fine. I didn’t want to sound ungrateful or diva-ish, but they had done an appalling and shoddy job, frankly. I decided privately that I needed to tweak the set-up to give me a bit more throwing-shapes space, and also to change the height of things, etc.

The bar was now filling up with incredibly beautiful people who were all young and well-dressed with very on-fleek clothing and hair, and were anticipating an impressive show from us. This was a crowd who would thrill to my muscular arms and gasp at my athletic shapes being thrown. I wanted to impress them as much as I wanted to impress Sarah, who was at the bar with the other band girlfriends and a few other chums. So, in a quiet moment, when the incredibly trendy people were indulging themselves and their backs were turned, I went up to the stage and moved one corner of the keyboard stand.

From the back of the room came a shriek of “Dan! NO! You MUSN’T DO THAT!! Think of your BAD BACK!!”, and I looked up as I saw a very stern Sarah parting the crowd and marching over to me. People turned to stare as she came up and berated me, reminding me of my weakery and feebleness, the spotlight of her voice illuminating me, and stripping away my cultured and carefully-manicured aura of cool. Oh bugger.

The gig went on. The keyboards remained at an (ironically) uncomfortable height. I felt like a wheezing old cripple in the corner, unable to rock out properly. The many interesting people in the bar all marvelled at my splendid bandmates, who were throwing their shapes and manhandling equipment without any interference from their partners, while I suffered the indignity of everyone knowing I had a very un-rock-n’-roll bad back.

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How I usually perform…

 

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…but that night, I was like this.

Of course, this story is proof that I’m really an awful person. Listen to me: I’m being horrible to people who are wonderful, who were actually looking after me, and only have my best interests at heart. They care. They don’t like seeing me hurt. In Sarah’s case, it’s not just the pain I suffer, but also all the slack that she has to pick up if my back is having one of its episodes. My bad back affects everyone around me, and it’s inconsiderate of me to assume it’s just my problem, because when it flares up, then it also confers some of the inconvenience onto everyone else, but usually Sarah.

Having a bad back has very few upsides. It affects work, play, movement, sleep, even sex. It forces me to exhale noisily when I get out of a chair, a bath, a bed, a car, or from any other position other than standing up. I’m sure people notice the massive “UHHHHHH!” and “AHHHHH!” noises I make whenever I rise from sitting.  I sound like an elephant seal having an orgasm.

The only upside I can think of from having a bad back is the time I saw a Doctor about it, and instead of the usual bland advice about exercises and bending the knees when I pick something up, she just briskly wrote out a prescription for Diazepam and Tramodol, and instructed me to take them both for a week. And for a week it was, like, hello marshmallow world!

For that week, I existed in a weird fug. It was like being a student again. I was signed off work, and I had nothing better to do. Sarah was still at home looking after Alice, so I had oodles of spare time on my hands. So I wrote and recorded music for a week. But what music. Weird, disjointed music that seemed to be all pillowy, and dark/weird, but I kinda liked it. I’ve tried many times since to get that same wooziness in my recordings, but to no avail – at least, not without sounding contrived.

Here is an example of my music from that week:

 

OK, so why am I whinging about this on here? What has this got to do with parenting? Well… everything.

I can’t be there like I normally can. I can’t get things for her. I can’t lift heavy items. I can’t rush to comfort her. I can’t bend down to talk to her on her level, I just loom, or glare at her from my position on the floor. To be honest, I don’t like being the incapacitated parent with a ‘health issue’. I don’t want my kid to see me lying around being feeble. I should be active and prancing about, and ready to pick her up and throw her into the air. I should be fixing things and being capable, not incapable. Trouble is, she’s now nearly eight years old, she can look after herself more, and I was never that kind of throwing-kids-around parent anyway.

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OK, here’s what goes through my mind when I see this sort of thing: Sharks, stingrays, jellyfish, sudden rip-tides, kid losing control of bowels, Dad poorly-timing the catch and having child slip from grasp kicking Daddy in the face, and falling onto the floor with a loud *crack*. I know the kid will land in water, but there might be a coral outcrop just below the surface, plus sharks/stingrays etc.

Also, it’s a matter of pride that she has a Daddy who is strong and dependable. It breaks my heart for me to be lying on the sofa complaining of a bad back, and to have her come over to me and say “Poor Daddy”, and patting me on the arm. It’s sort of sweet, but I wonder if occasionally she’s being sarcastic. The evidence? Well, she doesn’t so much pat my arm, as thump it. That, and she sort of exaggerates the words: “Pooooooor *thump-thump-thump* Daaaaddddyyyyyyy *thump-thump*”.

I should suck it up. Last time it got really serious, I paid for a top-whack chiropraccy back-crack quack to sort me out. And it did, believe it or not. For two glorious years, I got the occasional twinge, but no days on hard floors taking pills that make me go all dub-reggae. I should do that again, if it didn’t cost me a bloody fortune. But I should make the effort to cure this.

Dads do not lie prone on the floor. Dads are not like squeaky doors. Hey, I made a rhyme!! I must be feeling creative. Now I’m off to the Doc to see if I get some pills to make me go all woozy, and I’ll see if I can make some more music that is twatty and weird.

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