The Blog Top

For Father’s Day last weekend, we decided to take the boys on a surprise ‘mystery trip’ to the circus, which happened to be in town for a few days.

In typical Isaac fashion, he insisted on going out dressed in a costume, and despite not having the first clue where we were headed until we got there (such is the beauty of one of Daddy’s mystery trips), his outfit of choice for the day was rather appropriately that of P.T. Barnum, from The Greatest Showman.

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Obviously, this costume would not have been anywhere near as appropriate had we been going to somewhere like the cinema, or a fancy restaurant (not that we would risk taking our children to a fancy restaurant, mind); but therein lies the one good trait Isaac seems to possess among the dark abyss that is his charred soul – his innate ability to not give a flying fuck what anyone thinks.

As such, I feel sure that he would have still worn his Greatest Showman costume even if we had been attending the funeral of someone tragically killed in a trapeze accident (although, even by my standards, that would have been a shit mystery trip), because once he has set his heart on something, he is rarely dissuaded.

When we arrived, in the torrential rain of last Sunday, we were greeted at the entrance to the ‘Big Top’ – which would be more accurately described as a moderately sized marquee (although, in fairness, that doesn’t have the same (circus) ring to it) – by a man speaking with a strong Russian accent. How very circusy.

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This immediately added to the excitement and intrigue for Isaac, who had never before heard such an exotic accent – although the image was ruined slightly, when the man spotted our online ticket voucher (which we apparently should have exchanged for actual tickets at the box office next door), and exclaimed ‘Now I must go in rain! I take umbrella!’ Still, at least Vlad (I have no idea what his actual name was, but I’m assuming it was something stereotypical, like Vlad, or Igor), didn’t make us go back out into storm Malcolm* ourselves.

*I have no idea what storm name we are currently up to, if Sunday’s weather was even classed as a storm in the first place, but – no offence to any Malcolms reading – British storms always seem to have shit, non-threatening names, like Storm Malcolm, or Storm Glenda, don’t they?

I digress. While the ticket situation was being resolved, the boys headed off into the stands to choose some seats, but once my wife and I were ready to join them, we noticed some ringside spaces were free to the left of the performance area, and since our tickets seemed to be unrestricted, we decided to move there instead.

This excited Isaac even more, as he was now right next to the action.

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In contrast, I was immediately apprehensive, for two main reasons.

Firstly, on the basis Isaac’s only impression of a circus (until last weekend) was the glitz and glamour portrayed in The Greatest Showman, I felt sure this particular performance was going to be somewhat underwhelming for him. After all, the likelihood of Zendaya’s glorious bottom making an appearance was minimal, and while Sandbach does admittedly have some bearded ladies, very few can sing like Keala Settle.

Secondly, my only other experience of going to the circus, apart from when I was a young child myself, was almost exactly five years earlier, when Isaac was very poorly in hospital as a new-born, and I took Ollie to keep us both busy and distracted.

On that occasion, there had been a fair amount of audience participation, and if there is one thing I detest, it is being embarrassed in front of crowd of people – whether I am likely to ever see them again or not (yes, I am well aware of the irony that I frequently post embarrassing stories and pictures to my Facebook page, for nearly-1,500 followers to laugh at, but that’s somehow different).

Anyway, having been fleeced by Ollie for a £3 box of popcorn (although this was still preferable to the £5 my wife paid for a flashing-spinning-piece-of-shit for Isaac), we settled in for the show.

The first act was an acrobat (of sorts), although ‘scantily-clad pole dancer’ would be a more accurate description. Whilst her performance was certainly impressive, it obviously made for awkward viewing for most of the men in the tent, because as I looked around me, I noticed I wasn’t the only one keeping my hands away from my lap, and looking anywhere but at the stage. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t find the lady attractive in the slightest (she was heavily tattoed, and looked like she needed a good scrub, which isn’t really my thing), but I still wanted to make it perfectly clear that the only vertical pole at that point was the one she was currently wrapped around.

Next, came a man who balanced on a series of increasingly unstable cylindrical/spherical objects, assisted by a lady who, if she enjoyed her job, needed to tell her face. She could not have looked more unimpressed to be there, had her partner been balancing on the pole-dancer from moments earlier, but she supplied a variety of objects for him to balance on with relative competence, and he thankfully didn’t fall off his podium at any point (well, I say ‘thankfully’, but I might very well have pissed myself if he had).

The best part was, when they left the stage, the announcer asked everyone to applaud ‘Johnny and Sharon’, which, frankly, are names better suited to mediocre British storms than exotic circus performers, but never mind.

Then came the moment I had been dreading – the clown. I say this not because of my (entirely rational) fear of clowns, because this one didn’t resemble your typical Stephen King-esque jester, but because he immediately started picking on people in the audience.

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It transpired that I wasn’t the only one who detested audience participation, either, as most of the victims he selected seemed less than impressed at being chosen, and I could feel myself shrinking into my chair in an attempt to be as inconspicuous as possible (which, at 6’3”, is never easy).

Then, just before leaving the stage, ‘Pompeo’ (now there’s a circus name, Johnny) produced a water pistol, and began spraying audience members with it, primarily those in the front row. As he ran around, approaching where we were sat, he noticed Isaac dive to the floor to take cover, pretended to go elsewhere, then jumped out when Isaac got back up and sprayed him directly in the face. This amused almost all of the audience, apart from one little boy dressed like P.T. Barnum, who immediately started sobbing. Thanks for that, Pompeo, you fucking prick.

Next up, was ‘Molly’, who – the announcer gleefully informed us – was ‘all the way from the UK’ (I suspect this announcement goes down better abroad), and Molly performed some further acrobatics with long strands of silk hanging from the ceiling. Again, I’m sure this was all very impressive, but I was once more acutely aware that Molly’s costume did not entirely conceal her bottom (her costume was skimpy, rather than her bottom being vast), so I returned my attention to everyone else in the audience instead.

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During the interval, by which point Isaac had just stopped crying, Pompeo came back out from behind the curtain and headed to our seats. Then, God love him, he produced a box of popcorn, to say sorry for scaring our ‘little girl’ (sigh).

This cheered Isaac up no end, because it not only meant he had got both the flashing-light-tat and a box of popcorn (we had said he could have one or the other), but it gave him the opportunity to grab a handful of popcorn and throw it directly into Pompeo’s face by way of revenge.

Naturally, Isaac found this hilarious (Pompeo less so), but my wife and I were very embarrassed, and I nearly bought another box to give to Pompeo, to say sorry myself. Although, knowing my luck, he would only have then thrown some popcorn back at me, and we would have ended up caught in an eternal popcorn-apology-popcorn cycle.

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During the remainder of the interval, children were allowed to have their photograph taken with ‘Boris the Dancing Polar Bear’ (I shit you not), and whilst Isaac would ordinarily have been too scared to go up, he had newly-discovered confidence from having just defeated a clown, so off he went.

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The second half of the show involved more acrobatics from Molly, further japes courtesy of Pompeo, and a rather bizarre display of simultaneous juggling and drumming, performed by Bored Sharon from the first half (who re-appeared dressed as a radioactive condom), but the less said about any of that, the better.

The main thing was, the boys had fun (even if Sharon hadn’t), I got to see some pole dancing (from the corner of my eye), and – because he had made my son cry – Pompeo left me the fuck alone.

Plus, for one pint-sized P.T. Barnum, the circus was everything he dreamed it would be.

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All in all, a successful Father’s Day mystery trip.

Thanks for reading x

 

 

 

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Usain Blog

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The week before last, it was the boys’ sports day at school.

As Isaac is in reception, this was his first ever official sports day (although he did briefly feature in the pre-school version last summer), and in typical Isaac fashion he didn’t want to take part.

Now, when children don’t want to do something, their reactions usually range from eventually accepting the inevitable (‘if you don’t do it, you’ll get into trouble’), to the ever-popular strategy of bawling their fucking eyes out, like that has ever made the slightest bit of difference in the history of parenting.

Isaac, on the other hand, chose to take his protest to the next level – nudity, and he was still stark-bollock naked, screaming on the floor, two minutes before we were due to leave the house.

However, despite the obvious stress and upset this caused, as leaving for the school run always seems to be a rushed affair (I once asked the boys to start getting ready at 6.30am, just to prove my point, and we still ended up forcing shoes on and yanking Isaac’s hair into something remotely resembling a ponytail as we flew out of the door at 8.40am), I was secretly quite pleased with his tantrum.

The reason for this, was that for the first time since Ollie started school in 2014, I was unable to attend sports day myself (due to the fact my already sparse annual leave is rapidly running out), so my mum had driven over to watch Isaac in that morning’s ‘infant sports day’, while my wife was free in the afternoon to watch Ollie in the junior event.

Now, you might think that Isaac throwing a fucking wobbly would be best kept to ourselves, and that I might be embarrassed for my mum to see such behaviour from her youngest grandson; but he always behaves impeccably for her, and I don’t think until that point she had ever truly believed us when we told her (frequently), what a little shitbag he can be – so it was nice for her to see the real Isaac in all his hairy, naked, screaming glory.*

(*when I say ‘hairy’, I do of course mean his long hair, rather than any bodily fur – he’s not that feral).

Had it been solely down to me, I may very well have dragged a completely naked Isaac to school by his ponytail, just to teach him a lesson. Fortunately, however, my mum was more level-headed, and did a far better job of reasoning with him (apparently, in these situations, my tactic of growling ‘put your pants on now, or I will fuck you right up’ is somewhat counter-productive), and we somehow left the house with him not only fully-clothed, but wearing the green t-shirt (his ‘team’ colours) which had kicked off the spat in the first place.

Ok, he wasn’t wearing a hat like the school had requested (it was originally forecast to be gloriously sunny weather), but we had video evidence on my phone of what a little shit he had been right up until the point we left the house, and I was more than happy to show it to his teachers, should any of them dare to question his lack of headwear.

In the end, we arrived at school on time, sent Ollie off to his classroom wearing a red t-shirt in preparation for the afternoon’s events (yes, the boys are in different teams, which has caused many arguments about which is better), and escorted Isaac around to the infant playground before he could change his mind. Here, I left my mum in one of the seats near the start line on the school field, while I gladly handed Isaac over to his teachers (whispering ‘good luck dealing with this today’), before making my escape.

Obviously, I only have my mum’s account of what happened next, as I had to dash to work, but the child who hated the thought of participating in sports day (and who was apparently still sulking as he lined up for his first event), somehow secured two golds and two silvers from the four races he was in. Better still, he scored the most points in reception, and got a high-five from the headmistress for his efforts. You honestly couldn’t make this shit up. Although, the fact that one of those golds was in the dressing-up race, comes as no surprise whatsoever….

 

The thing is, a British school ‘sports day’ is a rather unique experience, particularly when it comes to the definition of what constitutes ‘sport’. It is very rare to encounter a four-year-old child taking part in a recognised Olympic event at their school sports day (although, in fairness, arming the little fuckers with javelins probably wouldn’t be the best idea), and the closest Isaac came to what I would consider a ‘proper’ race, was the 50m dash. Which he came second in.

Instead, sports day usually comprises novelty races, using random items like sacks, beanbags, and the ever-popular egg-and-spoon combo; and these events seldom go according to plan.

The Sack Race

The Idea:  Children run to their sack, which is placed a short distance from the start line, climb into it, then hop/bounce the remainder of the distance to the finish line.

The Reality:  The children somehow change lanes before they even reach their respective sacks, resulting in at least one child so confused and sackless, that they retire from the event in tears. Of the remaining kids, who do at least make it into a sack, more than half will end up flat on their face at some point, meaning they finish the race sobbing too.

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(photo clearly staged, as none of them are crying/bleeding)

The Beanbag Race

The Idea:  Children place a beanbag onto their head, then walk/jog steadily to the finish line, without it falling off.

The Reality:  The beanbag falls off so frequently (on average, every four steps), all the children cheat by holding it firmly in place for the majority of the race.

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Cheating

The Egg and Spoon Race

The Idea:  To walk the course with an egg (or, more commonly, a ping-pong ball for safety reasons) balanced precariously on a spoon.

The Reality:  Some devious little fucker keeps their thumb over the egg to hold it in place, and manages to sprint the entire distance without it ever looking even remotely close to falling off the spoon. No teachers find this in the slightest bit suspicious, despite the fact said child wins the race by at least thirty seconds.

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***

Other popular events include the ‘Dressing-Up Race’, which will usually (and, somewhat inexplicably) require children to adorn themselves in a high-visibility jacket, hard hat and wellington boots by the finish line, with each item of clothing spaced equidistantly throughout the course. Alternative clothing items have been known to include: flowery hats, dresses and long gloves. Sometimes, teachers will throw in the collection of a handbag as the final item, to complete the bizarre ‘elderly-woman-from-the-1950s’ ensemble.

I suppose the rationale behind the unusual choice of outfit, is that it is entertaining for the parents, but it would be more practical to have the children start the race in their pyjamas, before gradually adding items of school uniform by the end of the race. At least this way, it would be good practice for the school run.

Finally, we have the parent races. Here, as if being forced to participate in the dads’ event wasn’t bad enough, you will almost certainly encounter the very worst of fatherhood – the ‘Dickhead Dad’. Sometimes, this turns out to be a father you have chatted with in the playground, and who until that point struck you as a decent bloke; but there is a genetic flaw in a small proportion of the male population, which means they turn into a complete wanker as soon as they are placed into a competitive environment with other dads.

The first type of Dickhead Dad, is the guy who pretends to be reluctant to take part in the race, only to eventually ‘give in’, before stripping down to expensive running gear and a pair of spikes. He then wins the race comfortably, before claiming he ‘hasn’t run in years’.

The second – and even worse – type of Dickhead Dad, is the moron who clearly has no intention of winning, or even trying to win, and only takes part in the race because he thinks it is funny to trip up, or push over, as many other men as possible. There is a special place in hell reserved for people like this – and, in hindsight, it is perhaps a good thing primary schools don’t tend to feature a javelin event, otherwise people like me might find themselves imprisoned for impaling someone up the arse with one.

Thanks for reading x

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Billy Blog Hat

One of my strongest memories of primary school (well, other than hating it for the first term, and being forced to wear the shittest uniform in the history of primary school education – it was predominantly brown and yellow with, rather inexplicably, a huge eagle on the front of the jumper), was learning to read via the ‘Roger Red Hat’ series of books.

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Bizarrely, most of what I learned at high school and university has since evaporated from my brain (presumably because it was of little practical use), and nowadays I struggle to remember events from the week before, but I can still clearly recall that the books featured Roger Red Hat, Billy Blue Hat, and Jonny and Jennifer Yellow Hat (who I think were twins), and they all lived in the ‘village with three corners’.

In fact, having just checked online, it turns out the series was known as ‘One, Two, Three and Away’ (which rings no bells, whatsoever), and other than the fact Jonny is actually spelt ‘Johnny’, I was pretty much spot on – even down to the fact he and Jennifer were twins. Just look at the state of them:

Initial reactions:

  • Roger is an overly-dramatic, beret-wearing tosser;
  • Billy needs to stop the hillside manspreading;
  • Johnny should rethink his wardrobe, as the ‘off-the-shoulder dungarees’ look is just sooooo Deliverance

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I have to say, I don’t remember Percy Green, who is mentioned as a fifth character in the series, but what has really surprised me, looking through the list of books apparently released over four decades, was the number of truly disturbing titles available:

  1. Jennifer Yellow-Hat and Mr Brown’s Goat – let’s just pray ‘goat’ isn’t a euphemism;
  2. No, Percy Green! – I might have to track down a copy of this, to see what the hell Percy did;
  3. The Big Man and the Little Mouse hey, it’s not the size of your mouse which matters.
  4. Stop it, Percy Green! – Christ, what’s Percy done now?
  5. Stop, Cried Alex this is genuinely the next book in the series, so I can only assume Percy Green did something unspeakable to poor Alex;
  6. The Donkey went to School Well, it was the 1980’s, and the Village with Three Corners does look pretty ‘rural’, so this should come as no surprise;
  7. Jennifer Yellow-Hat Went Out in the Sunshine followed by Jennifer Went Out in the Dark and then Jennifer Yellow-Hat Went to Town – like all great trilogies, I’ll wager the second installment of ‘Jennifer Went Out’ was the shittest;
  8. Roger, the Stick and the Old Man – I dread to think what went on here *glances down the list, to check for future releases titled ‘Roger Receives Life for Murder’*;
  9. Percy Green and Mr Red Hat’s Car – a tale of juvenile theft/joyriding, or a sinister child-abduction? Perhaps we’ll never know, as the next release was ‘Crash! The Car Hit a Tree’, quickly followed by ‘A Funeral in the Village with Three Corners’ (ok, I made the second one up);
  10. The Old Man and the Wind – standard. Happens to the best of us;
  11. Jennifer in Dark Woods – she’s out again. I hate it when they ruin a perfectly good trilogy with a dubious spin-off. I’m starting to think there was something sinister about Jennifer;
  12. Sita Climbs the Wall – I wonder if Sita was Mexican, and this was a terrifying premonition of Donald Trump’s presidency;
  13. When the School Door Was Shut – they were really dragging the barrel in the later series, weren’t they?
  14. The Big Man, the Witch and the Donkey – a bit ‘specialist’, but each to their own;
  15. The Little Old Man and the Magic Stick – put it away, little old man.
  16. Dancing Ann and the Green-Gruff Grackle – erm…. what?
  17. The King of the Magic Mountains – I suspect the author was on heavy medication by this point;
  18. The Horse that Flew in the Moonlight – yep, she was.

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Anyway, before those of you who didn’t grow up with these books get all judgmental, they formed an important part of my childhood, and helped me learn to read. In hindsight, some of those titles (none of which I remember), may also explain why my own writing can be so obscure, but that’s not for me to say.

Sadly, not only did the series apparently finish at some point in the 1990s (which I initially assumed to be when the author passed away, but it turns out she died in 2014, at the ripe old age of 93), they are no longer available for today’s youth, so I have been denied the opportunity of re-reading them with Ollie and Isaac, as a fond reminder of my own childhood.

Instead, my boys – like many other children around the country – have been subjected to a new gang of delinquents, known as ‘Biff, Chip, and Kipper’ (cue parents developing a Vietnam-style nervous twitch, at the very mention of those names).

Whatever you may think about the ‘One, Two, Three and Away‘ books, at least those children had normal names, and, to this day – despite having read most of the series – I’m still not sure which of Biff, Chip and Kipper is the girl. Not that it matters, necessarily, because the parents should be investigated for giving their children such ridiculous names anyway (I was just relieved to discover ‘Floppy’ is the dog, because no boy needs to go through adolescence with that for a name).

As I was reading one of these books with Isaac last week, slowly losing the will to live as he struggled over the same word he had already read seventeen times, it struck me that this series is no better than the ones we had as kids.

In the end, the more Isaac read, the more concerned I became about the story; so I ended up photographing each page, in order to illustrate the various issues I have with this particular title, which is simply named ‘Spots’….

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  • Why has Kipper surrounded himself with the angriest looking toys I’ve ever seen?
  • What has he done to that bear to make him so mad?
  •  Why is Dad’s ear purple?
  • Why are his sideburns a different colour to the rest of his hair?

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  • Why do Biff and Chip have matching 1970’s jumpsuits on?
  • What kind of shopping list comprises apples, bread, dog food and a doorbell? I can only assume they shop in Aldi;
  • Who buys a ‘terraced houses’ calendar?
  • How does Dad not spend the remainder of the book in hospital, being treated for third-degree burns?

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  • I would be dubious of any doctor who turned up with hypodermic needles sticking out of her fucking handbag;
  • Is that a picture of George Michael on the girl’s wall?
  • What’s the fox grinning at?
  • What have the bear and the cat been up to?

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  • That is one truly awful dressing gown. She looks like a stick of rock. Or a deckchair.

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  • Look how smug Dad is, serving a breakfast of what appears to be hotdog, lentils, and a bottle of lucozade – together with a giant bowl of what I sincerely hope are grapes and not green olives;
  • Does the newspaper say ‘Dagenham Post’? If so, I assume the headline ‘New Disaster Horror’ is all about living in Dagenham;
  • Those sideburns really make me uneasy.

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  • Is the man holding the dog up so it can see over the fence, or has it jumped?
  • What has the man done wrong, for his wife to glare at him like that? (Experience tells us, when he asks her later, the answer will almost certainly be ‘you know‘);
  • Is it because he appears to be staring at Mum’s knickers on the line (assuming they aren’t Dad’s)?
  • Only a moron would hang the bed sheet like that, dragging it across the lawn where Floppy has presumably left lots of ‘treats’ lying around – and I don’t mean that bone.

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  • On behalf of men everywhere, I resent the suggestion we never go to the supermarket, and that, on the rare occasions we do, we try to pay for our weekly shop at the ‘basket’ checkout with a fucking cheque book;
  • In Dad’s defence, what’s the point in sticking the ‘8 items or less, Cash only’ sign half way down the aisle?
  • Is it just me who finds that hammer a bit sinister (and I was right, they do shop in Aldi)?
  • Has he dropped the frozen turkey on yet more grapes? Mum will be shitting through the eye of a needle at this rate;
  • The bloke behind Dad needs to sort his waistline out, particularly if he’s going to insist on wearing double-brown;

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  • How old is that TV?
  • Why is it switched off? Is it because Dad is too lazy to get up and turn it on, or was he watching something mucky before they walked in?
  • Who did Mum’s make-up, Stevie fucking Wonder?

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  • Dad seems pretty pleased about contracting whatever illness the rest of the family had;
  • Someone needs to tell Mum to look in a mirror and sort her face out;
  • This family is terrible at catering for the sick. You want soup when you feel unwell, not chicken, potatoes, and a bottle of wine;
  • Why is Dad’s ear no longer purple? It obviously wasn’t a birthmark at the start of the book, so what happened? Had he slept in some Ribena?

And the book ends there, so clearly no one gives a shit what happens to poor Dad after he gets poorly, and I also resent the fact the moral of the story appears to be ‘men don’t understand how difficult women have it.’

Sexist pigs.

Thanks for reading x

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Blogtooth

Afternoon, everyone. How are we all?

(That was just me being friendly, by the way, so don’t bother responding to tell me how you actually are, as there’s a very strong chance I won’t give a shit – unless you are genuinely in a bad way, and feel you have no one else to talk to, in which case I am always here for you, buddy).

Anyway, enough pleasantries. This week’s entry is about car phones (don’t worry, it’s going to be funnier than you think… or your money back).

Despite my previous issues with Ford a few years ago (see: https://middlerageddad.com/2015/07/03/once-upon-a-blog/), last year I bought my second ever Ford Kuga.

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My current Kuga is a few years old (it’s a ‘15’ plate, like the one in the picture above), is by no means top-of-the-range, and it was not expensive. Well, it was expensive compared to my first ever car when I was 21 (coincidentally, another Ford), but that only lasted a few weeks before falling apart, and by modern standards I spent less than most people do on a car.

It isn’t very quick, it doesn’t have fancy gadgets, and it isn’t as economical as I was hoping it might be; but what it does have is lots of space, a massive boot, and a decent audio system. Best of all, the audio system allows me to connect my phone via Bluetooth so that I can make and receive calls, and whilst I know this is quite common in modern cars now, I would be lying if I said it wasn’t one of the main reasons I returned to Ford after a two-year absence.

I hadn’t realised just how good the in-built phone system is in some Ford cars, until I switched to the Volkswagen Tiguan for my previous motor. That is not to say ‘Tiggy’ didn’t have a good in-built phone system, more that she didn’t have any phone system at all, because Volkswagen are notoriously stingy when it comes to adding technology to their cars (for example, my parents-in-law owned a VW Passat until a couple of years ago, and that still had a fucking cassette player in it).

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As a result, when Tiggy joined our family in 2016, and I realised how handy being able to make and receive calls in the car had been (usually to determine who out of my wife and I was meant to be collecting the kids from school), I purchased a ‘Parrot’ system from Halfords, assuming it would more-or-less the same.

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Well, you know what assume does.

To say the Parrot system was utterly shit, would be an insult to shit. It was worse than terrible, and for anyone inclined to see my review (which was banned from Trust Pilot for over-use of the word ‘wanky’), I wrote a blog entry about that, too: https://middlerageddad.com/2016/05/20/the-old-blog-and-bone/).

As a result, having a decent phone system was pretty crucial to me when changing cars early last year (it featured at the top end of my priorities list, somewhere near ‘good mileage’ and ‘fancy cup holders’); and because nothing else on the market tickled my pickle, and I had enjoyed my previous Kuga – despite the issues I encountered with Ford as a company – off I trundled to get myself another one. And, for the most part, this car has thankfully been faultless (if a little thirsty on the weekday commute).

Once I had made my purchase, I was relieved to learn that the phone system was actually better than in my previous Kuga, since not only does the microphone allow those I am calling to clearly hear what I am saying (take note, Parrot, as this is pretty crucial), but the voice recognition software, whilst a little judgmental*, is usually spot on.

*I think it might be the same woman who voices my sat nav, as she can be a sarcastic little bitch at times, too.

Best of all, unlike in my previous Kuga, the phone system in this one allows me to read, listen to, and reply to text messages as well.

By that, I mean that when an incoming text message arrives on my phone, the car informs me with a pleasant alert ‘ding’, then offers me the option of reading what the text says on the dashboard; or – for safety reasons – I can choose to have it read out by the same judgmental woman instead. I usually opt for this latter method of receiving the text – not for safety, but for the comedy value of her mispronouncing words and names, so I can once again feel superior.

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Anyway, I then have the option of responding to the text message via a series of pre-set replies, which the boffins at Ford have determined to be some of the most widely used communications by British drivers.

Unfortunately, this is where the system lets itself down, because Ford are – as you may be aware – an American company, and what they think are the most common responses to text messages, is not necessarily true of us Brits. Furthermore, they seem to think that no driver over the age of 25 would want to use such a system, so everything is geared towards the [gulp] millennials, even though I doubt a Ford Kuga would be the car of choice for your average skinny-jean-wearing, crushed avocado scoffing, craft beer enthusiast.

Let me give you a few examples, to illustrate my point. Here are some of the responses Ford have determined to be the most useful when responding to a text via your car’s phone system:

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Ok
  4. Thanks!

(pausing there for one second, I do accept that these first four responses are, whilst a little abrupt for us Brits, relatively common and practical, but bear with me…)

  1. See u in 10 min
  2. See u in 20 min

(pausing again here, I would never abbreviate ‘you’ to ‘u’ – nor would most other Kuga drivers, I suspect – so this really annoys me. Even worse, those are the only time-based options offered by Ford, so they evidently assume very few British journeys take longer than about an hour to complete, what with us being on an adorable little island ‘n’ all).

  1. Stuck in traffic

(the only one I might actually need/use).

  1. Too funny 🙂 

(don’t get me started on this one. It makes me so fucking angry to think this is considered a common text response in Britain, especially among the Kuga driving community. Who the hell uses this kind of response when texting from their car?)

  1. Yee-haw
  2. OMG! There’s been another shooting

(ok, I made the last two up)

However, the one which really surprised me, was ‘I love you’.

Now, not only would I argue this an odd thing to tell someone via the power of automotive text messaging, but they have placed it directly below ‘Thanks!’ on the list – which is the only other response, aside from ‘Stuck in traffic’, that I tend to use.

As a result, when my (female) colleague texted me during the morning commute a few weeks ago, and I tried to thank her in response, I inadvertently declared my love for her. That took some explaining when I arrived at the office, let me tell you.

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Consequently, I have decided to contact Ford in order to suggest a series of more suitable alternatives for the British market, and ideally I would like my own personalised list (having checked online and in the car’s manual, I don’t think it is possible to change the replies manually myself, but I’m sure Ford could re-programme the car for me).

In truth, my list of ‘common’ text responses is quite extensive, but having whittled it down to just the top ten, and in particular those I am most likely to need whilst driving, I’ll be asking Ford to replace my own list with the following:

  1. Knobhead
  2. Who’s picking the boys up?
  3. Stuck behind a sodding tractor.
  4. Why are BMW drivers such arseholes?
  5. There in about an hour
  6. There in about two hours
  7. May not get to you before midnight at this rate
  8. Fucking roadworks again. I’m going to take a shit in a box, and post it to Cheshire East Council
  9. Old people should be banned from driving during rush hour
  10. Just killed another cyclist. Oops 🙂 

There. That should cover it.

Thanks for reading x

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Blog Pudding

Hi there.

As alluded to in my previous blog entry, we spent last weekend in one of our favourite ever cities, York, celebrating Isaac’s 5th birthday.

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In truth, this wasn’t exactly Isaac’s idea, and the trip was primarily to meet up with my wife’s uncle and aunt, who were over from Canada (for obvious reasons, we don’t get to see them very often), but we still made the weekend about Isaac whenever we could.

This included transporting a huge ‘5’ balloon in the car without him seeing (well, it was in the boot, he’s not that fucking oblivious), leaving it with the reception staff in our hotel overnight, and then smuggling it into the room while he slept the following evening, so that it was by his bed – along with all of his presents – when he awoke Sunday morning.

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Before we had children, my wife and I would always stay at the same delightful little hotel whenever we visited York, because, although it wasn’t ridiculously expensive, it still felt extravagant for our budget, so it was a treat we would always look forward to.

Now that we have kids, however, it didn’t seem appropriate to stay at that same hotel, because not only was it too nice for our boys to stay in (arguably, most crack dens would be too fancy for Isaac), it also wouldn’t have been fair to ruin everyone else’s weekend too. To be honest, I couldn’t be bothered dealing with the judgmental stares of all the childless couples – or, worse, any parents whose kids were actually behaving themselves, and not like escaped zoo animals.

So, on this particular visit to York, we decided to stay at a Premier Inn, because as a chain they are still nicer than a Travelodge or Holiday Inn (which are, in turn, slightly nicer than your average crack den), but not so expensive that I feel the need to steal the cutlery, towels and television set in order to justify the cost.*

*That was, of course, a joke (we have plenty of cutlery already).

The most attractive thing about booking a Premier Inn, however, is the breakfast on offer. If there are three things I absolutely love about a hotel breakfast, they are:

1. The word ‘unlimited’;
2. When they offer black pudding;
3. When kids eat for free.

Now, Premier Inns boast all three of the above, and that places them very high up my list of (budget) hotel chains, and right at the very top when the kids are in tow.

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In short, Premier Inns are nice enough that staying in one is still something of a treat (although, admittedly, having an uninterrupted shit would be considered a treat these days), but not so nice that I feel I have to make excuses for Isaac’s behaviour every few minutes – and, according to my wife, ‘he can be a bit of a dick’ isn’t an appropriate excuse to tell appalled onlookers anyway.

Fortunately, Ollie shares my love for a decent hotel breakfast, particularly when it comes to pastries, and he appears to have made it his life’s goal to hunt for the world’s finest croissants (an accolade which, he maintains, currently rests with the Barcelona Airport Hotel, where he loudly exclaimed over breakfast one morning ‘the Spanish make the best croissants in the world!’ – much to the annoyance of some French guests at the next table*).

*Although, in fairness, the French look annoyed most of the time anyway, so it may not have been because of Ollie’s comment.

My eldest son was therefore just as excited as I was heading to breakfast on our first morning, to the extent he was still carefully planning his croissant gluttony as we got in the lift to go down to the restaurant, and this seemed to amuse the elderly chap who got in behind us.

As Ollie explained that he was planning on devouring ‘more croissants than there are trees in the world’ (we checked, and there are apparently 3.4 trillion trees on the planet, so this struck me as slightly ambitious on his part), the old man chuckled and wished Ollie all the best with his challenge.

I, on the other hand, was all about the full cooked breakfast, because I knew there was black pudding on offer, not to mention a generous choice of eggs (note to Travelodge: rubbery and fried, or wet and scrambled – which frankly looks like a cat has vomited in the dish – is not an appealing choice).

In fact, the cooked breakfast menu was particularly impressive:

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So much so, when we had been shown to our table, I decided to challenge Ollie with selecting a cooked breakfast containing only five of the above items (this was purely a theoretical challenge, you understand, as I was happy for him to eat as much as he wanted).

As he pondered his decision, I revealed that my personal choice, if restricted to just five items, would be:

1. Sausages;
2. Poached eggs;
3. Hash browns;
4. Black pudding;
5. Beans.

Ollie’s response to that was ‘No, I need my bacon. I’d swap the egg for bacon. And I’d  definitely swap the black pudding for…. erm…. more bacon.’

This evidently gave him an idea, because he then disappeared and came back moments later with a bacon sandwich containing so many rashers, I genuinely feared for his health as I watched him devour it.

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Still, it kept him quiet, and at least it was a change from stuffing his face with pastries. As it was, he still managed three croissants, four pain au chocolat AND a huge bowl of cereal, so he really got his money’s worth (figuratively speaking, since the boys’ breakfasts were free). I’ve never been prouder of him.

I, on the other hand, am quite particular about my bacon, and although Premier Inn do a better job of it than any Travelodge I have ever stayed in (who appear to train their chefs to cook the rashers for no more than thirty seconds on each side), I still opted to minimise the bacon on my plate to just the one crispy piece I could find in the dish, reserving the remainder of the space for my preferred items – including two poached eggs. Ok, they weren’t as runny as I might have preferred, but, in fairness, this was hardly The Savoy.

The black pudding, in particular, was superb, although Isaac did make some of the staff (and a number of other guests) laugh when he pointed at it on the cooked breakfast counter, before loudly shouting that he wanted a chocolate cookie too. I very nearly put some on his plate, if only for the shits and giggles of watching his expression sink when he took his first bite. I was intrigued to see how he would react, when the ‘chocolate cookie’ was much softer and meatier than he had been expecting.

As Ollie and I were intent on consuming our respective body weights in food, and we can both be slow eaters anyway, Isaac and my wife were finished long before us, and decided to head back to the room (once Isaac had been to the toilet, to once again try for the shit he had been threatening for three days solid*), and I was later told they had – by pure coincidence – bumped into the same elderly man in the lift back up to our floor.

*perhaps a poor choice of word in the circumstances, as when it did eventually ‘arrive’, it damn near cracked the toilet bowl. It was like a fucking paperweight.

Anyway, it transpired the old man recognised them as well, because he asked whether my wife’s ‘son’ (evidently assuming, like so many others, that Isaac is a girl) had ‘managed his 3.4 trillion croissants’.

My wife’s response?

“Where do you think he still is?!”

Thanks for reading x

***

p.s. – If you have read – and hopefully enjoyed – this week’s entry, feel free to:

  1. Like and share it on Facebook;
  2. Comment on my Facebook post with the five items you would select from the cooked breakfast menu above. Don’t explain it, just comment with your five items. It’ll really confuse everyone who follows my page but doesn’t read the blog, which frankly serves them the fuck right.

p.p.s – Travelodges aren’t that bad, I suppose.

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Blog of the Dump

This Sunday is Isaac’s 5th birthday, but as we are away over the weekend visiting one of my favourite cities, York, we held his party last Saturday – at a local soft play centre.

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As it happens, this was the same soft play centre where the boys had a joint party last year (their birthdays are only three days apart), but since Ollie will turn nine next week, he fancied doing something a little more ‘grown up’ this year, and has chosen to take a few friends to the National Football Museum instead (followed by a trip to Nando’s, which I have agreed to on the strict understanding no one refers to it as ‘cheeky’).

Unfortunately, because we left it quite late to book Isaac’s party, there was no availability for the ‘exclusive’ hire of the venue (after normal opening hours), so we were forced to host it while they were still open to the public. This didn’t particularly bother us, as Isaac only had around fifteen of his friends attending anyway, but some of the other families there were, how can I put this…. rough as shit?

The other issue this posed, was that not every child arriving around 3pm was there for the party, and because Isaac only started school in September, we still don’t know who some of his friends are, so we had to ask him each time a family walked in whether he knew the child or not.

There was one child in particular, however, who clearly didn’t belong at the party. Not only was she too young (probably three, at a guess), but – without being snobby – to say she was scummy would be an understatement. Look, I am acutely aware that Isaac can be a dickhead at times, and I sometimes joke about him being feral, but this little girl actually was feral.  She was filthy, nasty, rude, and it wouldn’t have surprised me if she was carrying some kind of blade.

The first time we noticed her, was when she wandered over to our reserved party table – where all the parents were congregating while their kids played – took one look at the pile of gifts everyone had kindly brought, and said “I’ll take one.”

At this point, I just thought she was perhaps a little naive, and an embarrassed parent would come running over to retrieve her and apologise, but when no one appeared, my wife and I had to politely explain that these were birthday presents for our son, and weren’t for her.

Undeterred, she glared at us and said: “You have lots. I’ll just take one”, before making a grab for the gift nearest to her.

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“No, that’s not for you”, my wife said pleasantly but firmly (when my chosen language might have been a little harsher) but she still had to physically prize the girl’s filthy little mitts off the gift, as she wasn’t giving it up easily. Eventually, she did leave the table and wander off (presumably in search of something else to steal), but still no parent(s) seemed to want to accept responsibility for her.

Before long, she was back again, only this time she bypassed our table and headed straight for the food counter behind us, where she asked a parent in the queue to buy her a box of raisins. When the lady – who clearly had no idea who the child was – politely refused, the little girl then took the box up to the poor lad who was manning the counter, and put them down in front of him with a 1p coin (which she had presumably discovered on the floor somewhere).

When he, rather awkwardly, told her that wasn’t enough money, she stared directly at him, and said in a low, menacing voice: ‘take the money’.

Now, if there is one thing I have learned from many years watching horror films, it’s that nothing is quite so scary as demonic little girls, and even though she was facing away from me at the time, and was speaking to someone else, I damn near shit myself, so I have no idea how terrified he must have been.

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I was then briefly distracted talking to another parent, but the next thing I knew, the grubby little tree-dweller was eating the raisins, so she had either chosen to ignore the lad behind the till and steal them, or he had decided that his life was worth more than a box of shriveled fruit. A wise move, because had he continued to deny her the snack, and then suddenly dropped dead, it would not have surprised me in the slightest.

We were in the presence of pure evil.

Within minutes, she appeared beside me again (I’m not ashamed to admit I actually yelped, and may have soiled myself a little), and began demanding that someone take her on the ‘big slide’. At this point, a friend of ours suggested they go and find her parents instead, but I had begun to question whether they ever existed (there was an argument this child was not the offspring of a human woman); and if they did, whether she had at some point slaughtered them in their sleep – ok, I may have been overreacting by this point.

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As I suspected, no parents could be located (at least, none who wanted to claim her), and even though she was deposited on the other side of the centre to ruin someone else’s day, minutes later she was once again heading towards Isaac’s presents. By the time my wife and I got there, she was already in the process of unwrapping one of them, so again we had to physically remove her (whilst at all times avoiding eye contact, lest we burst into flames), before making the decision that perhaps I should take the gifts to the car.

When I got there, I have to admit I opened the boot very slowly, since part of me envisaged her jumping out of the enclosed space and sinking her teeth into my neck.

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Once all the presents were securely in the car, it was time for Isaac’s party tea, and thankfully she didn’t turn up for that (it was in a separate room), but I still kept an eye out for her sneaking in behind another parent, in a bid to steal some food, or perhaps eat/destroy/urinate on the birthday cake (which was frankly amazing):

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After the children had eaten and played games, there was just time for another half hour in the main room before the party was due to end, and Isaac decided he wanted to go into the toddler’s area with a few friends.

As this enclosure is designed for younger kids to play safely, the door has a magnetic button at the top, which only adults can reach. The idea is that parents can let their children into the caged area (which has a ball-pit, slide, etc.), and then relax with a coffee, knowing they cannot hurt themselves, or – more importantly – escape.

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Of course, when Isaac and his two friends went in, there was devil spawn once more, who immediately made it her mission to ruin their fun. It was only at this point, when I began to suggest her behaviour wasn’t very nice, my attention was drawn to a small, shriveled woman sat on the floor, like the ‘Psammead’ from Five Children and It, and she muttered something about being the girl’s aunt.

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I wanted to respond with something like “You do realise your disgusting, feral, street urchin of a niece needs to learn some fucking manners, don’t you?”; but if there is one thing I detest more than confrontation, it’s being brutally murdered in front of my family, so I decided to simply walk away.

Soon after, however, I could hear a commotion in the toddler area, and headed back to make sure Isaac and his friends were ok. Sure enough, the noise was coming from Satan’s offspring, who was demanding to be let out of the enclosure.  With no aunt in sight (she must have escaped), I calmly explained that I wasn’t allowed to let her out, and that it might be best for her to stay in there (for the safety of the other children, but also to acclimatise her to incarceration, ready for later life).

At this point, her eyes glowed red (or, at least, they have each time I have played the events back in my nightmares since), and she growled: “Let. Me. Out.”

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“Nope. You stay in there, you evil little fuck.”

Then, as I turned away to walk back to our table, I could hear her thrashing around behind me, but didn’t dare glance back in case her head was spinning around and she was vomiting green ooze in my direction.

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It was only a minute or two later, when I dared to look, I realised the noise had been her frantically destroying the ‘house’ Isaac and his friends had built from cushioned bricks, then using them to build a platform against the door. Within seconds, she had created a structure which enabled her to climb up, reach around the door, and release it herself. I had to hand it to her, she was a resourceful little critter.

Needless to say, when the door released and she came tumbling out, the aunt was nowhere to be seen, and it took another parent to come over and escort her back to a table on the other side of the room – where the aunt was sat with a couple who I later discovered were the girl’s parents. Yes, they had been there all along, ignoring not only their daughter, but more importantly her appalling behaviour.

At that point, I hated them even more than her. Ok, she was clearly possessed by some malevolent spirit, and I have no doubt there was a black pit where her soul should have been; but she was only young, and clearly had very little chance in life with these two toothless gibbons for parents. I almost felt sorry for her.

Almost.

Thanks for reading x

 

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The Blog and White Army

I’m going to pre-empt this week’s entry with a warning that it is admittedly about football – specifically my team, Stockport County – but I suspect (hope) those of you who don’t follow or like football will still enjoy it.

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My main reasons for that assumption are as follows:

  1. The fact it is about my beloved ‘Hatters’ (Stockport County’s nickname) is all rather incidental, as it is mostly about the loving bond I share with my eldest son, Ollie (and any blog entries about my boys always prove to be more popular);
  2. I posted a ‘short version’ of last weekend’s events on my Facebook page, and at the time of writing it has attracted just under one hundred ‘reactions’, with more than a third of those being ‘love’ emojis. It is rare for anything I post on Facebook to attract so much ‘love’ (but, in fairness, that’s usually because it is either rude, sweary, or because my followers are too busy laughing at my latest embarrassment);

Besides, Isaac has had an uncharacteristically quiet week (by his standards), and not much else has happened in my life, so unless you want to read a blog entry about a group of friends baking a cake (which was, admittedly, huge and brightly coloured – see below), or me taking Isaac swimming last Sunday, then it’s tough shit, I’m afraid.

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Anyway, I shall keep the football element of this week’s entry to a minimum, by providing the following whistle-stop tour of the last decade or so supporting Stockport County:

  • May 2008 – promoted to League One (the third level of English football), at Wembley. This remains, after our wedding day, and the birth of our two sons, the fourth happiest day of my life (so far);
  • Soon after, the club’s financial difficulties were revealed (at the time we were owned by, and being run by, utter dickheads);
  • Despite our total debts amounting to roughly what a premier league footballer might spend on a pair of pants, County were placed into Administration in April 2009, and very nearly ceased to exist all together;
  • We were promptly relegated back down to League Two; and then, in April 2011, our 106-year stint in the football league came to an abrupt end, as we were relegated into the ‘non-league’ for the first time in our history;
  • Just when County fans didn’t think our fortunes could possibly get any worse, after more atrocious ownership decisions and piss-poor management, in April 2013 we were relegated yet again, this time to the sixth tier of English football. We remained there, playing regional football, until last Saturday.

Now, because our demise into non-league football had become inevitable by Easter 2011, and because I was determined Ollie’s first County match would not be against some ‘poxy non-league side’ (I didn’t realise at the time how bad things were really going to get, and how good some of the sides down there are), his first visit to Edgeley Park took place on Easter Monday (25th April) 2011 – when he was just eleven months old.

Obviously I didn’t expect Ollie to understand what was going on  at the time, but ever since I had found out I was going to be a father, I had looked forward to taking my son or daughter to Edgeley Park for the very first time; I just never expected it to be the match which effectively (if not mathematically), sealed our fate, and relegated us out of the league for the first time in more than a century. To say I had mixed emotions that day, would be a massive fucking understatement.

In truth, it took Ollie a few seasons before he actually started to enjoy coming to County with me (a rucksack filled with snacks often helped pass the time for him); but then, prior to the start of the 2016-17 campaign, I purchased season tickets for the two of us, and we have been in the same seats ever since.

As his love for football grew, I started to worry that he might be tempted to switch allegiances to one of County’s more successful neighbours down the road in Manchester, but I have thankfully never had to carry out my threat of chucking him out of the house on his arse, because he has not once shown any interest in supporting either Uni*ed or C*ty (I may swear occasionally in my blog, but there’s no fucking way I’m typing either of their names in full). Ollie has remained a proud ‘Hatter’ ever since.

It would be fair to say County’s fortunes over the period of Ollie’s support have ranged from ‘disappointing’ to ‘utterly shit’ (and a wide spectrum of brown shades in between), yet not once has his allegiance faltered. It would have been so easy for him to succumb to the temptation of supporting a more successful team, as so many of his friends at school do, but he has always proudly boasted about his love for County, often in the face of derision and laughter. In fact, one of my proudest moments as a father, is when he encountered a young Manchester Uni*ed fan on a visit to the National Football Museum when he was five, and explained to them why their life choices were so regrettable.

As a result, when County won automatic promotion to the dizzy heights of the fifth tier of English football last Saturday afternoon, I had decided to reward Ollie for his loyalty by taking him to the end of season awards dinner at Edgeley Park.

I have been to this event a few times myself over the years, and have usually ended up quite drunk (I once – rather embarrassingly – drew up a contract on a napkin, to try and ‘sign’ a County striker for our five-a-side team, explaining that I was a ‘proper lawyer’, and would hunt him down like a dog if he didn’t show up for the tournament we had entered the following day), but I had previously agreed to take Ollie once he was a little older, and this seemed the perfect season to make good on my promise.

So, with promotion to the National League secured shortly before 5pm last Saturday, Ollie and I donned some smart clothes, and caught a train from Sandbach to Stockport. To say he was excited would be an understatement.

Fortunately, the fancy two-course meal was something he was willing to try (even though I ended up devouring his dessert, as well as my own, because ‘there’s some red stuff on it’ – a berry compote), and since we had a lazy Sunday planned the following day, the prospect of him getting to bed well after midnight thankfully wasn’t too much of an issue.

Which was for the best, because County’s final match of the season had been away at Nuneaton, and because the result meant we were crowned champions, the players had to wait to be awarded the trophy in front of our 3,500 traveling fans, meaning they were delayed heading back to Stockport. So late, in fact, that Ollie and I were the sole occupants of Table 17 for at least an hour, and dinner wasn’t served until 9.45pm, by which point I honestly thought Ollie was going to pass out from hunger.

The consequence of dinner being so late, was that the awards themselves went on until nearly 11pm, and I knew we had to leave Edgeley Park soon after 11.30pm to catch our final train home, which meant Ollie had very little time to meet the players for autographs.

Thankfully, he had already met many of the squad last season when he was mascot for the day, and he had memorised a list of the signatures he still needed in his autograph book, so we focused on those players and managed to collect all but a couple.

Better still, as we were due to leave, we spotted County’s Manager, Jim Gannon, holding the champions trophy County had been presented at Nuneaton a few hours earlier, and we managed to nip in for a very quick photograph. It just so happened to be one of the best photographs I have ever taken:

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Then it really was time to go, but thankfully – apart from a few players we hadn’t been able to catch for signatures – the night was winding down anyway, and Ollie was utterly euphoric (if a little knackered). So much so, as we got on our last train home to Sandbach shortly after midnight, he turned to me and said “This is the best night of my life! It doesn’t get any better than this!”

And, as I explained on my Facebook page last weekend, those few words made it one of the best nights of my life too.

Thanks for reading, and I promise next week’s entry won’t be about football x

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