Spaghetti Blognese

My wife and I don’t always agree on everything – but one thing we do agree on, is that Italy is at the very top of our ‘countries we would both like to visit, that neither of us have ever been to’ list.

Say what you like about the Italians (unless you happen to be Prince Phillip, in which case you had better stay quiet), but there aren’t many things they do badly – except, perhaps, pop music, and choosing sides during a world war. They look good, they sound great, and most things they turn their perfectly bronzed hands to they excel at: food, art, cars, football, architecture, the making of the love*, riding a moped without a helmet…. as a nation they are just so damn sexy.

*this is an educated guess, as I have never slept with an Italian.

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In fact, Ollie’s current topic at school is ‘Italy’ (which is actually the reason behind this week’s entry, but we’ll get to that in a bit), so I just asked him to name something the Italians are rubbish at, and the best he could come up with was ‘knowing when to run away from a volcano.’ I think that speaks volumes, really, don’t you? According to my nine-year-old, the last time the Italians were truly shit at something was a little under two thousand years ago (although, in fairness, we didn’t let him stay up for Eurovision this year). In contrast, I don’t think we Brits could last two thousand minutes without badly fucking up something. And we don’t have volcanoes to contend with.

Anyway, I don’t wish to appear uncultured, as I do appreciate Italian art and architecture to an extent (well, at least as far as my 1996 A-grade in GCSE Art will allow), but my two main reasons for desperately wanting to visit Italy are firstly to watch a Serie A football match (just don’t tell Ollie, as he’s been pestering me to take him to Juventus ever since we got back from Barcelona a couple of years ago) and, secondly, to eat their food. All their food.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Chinese and Thai food as much as the next man (assuming the next man really loves Chinese and Thai food), and given the choice of a meal out I would always opt for a curry; but Italian is the one cuisine where I could happily order most of the menu and not be disappointed. Apart from tiramisu. Tiramisu is shit.

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Shit

Such is my admiration for Italy (and I say this without ever having visited, so I suppose the reality may disappoint, but I doubt it), around a decade ago I took a course of Italian evening classes to try to learn a bit of their language. I’m not sure what I hoped to achieve from this, as languages have never been my strong point, but the classes took place at my wife’s school (so they were not only convenient, but I got them for half price), and I suspect deep down I was just desperate to make myself a little sexier. And, yes, I know what you’re all thinking, ladies, ‘how on earth do you improve on that?’, but even Adonis-like specimens such as myself can strive to better themselves. Anyway, I promptly forgot everything I had learned within around a month of the course finishing, so the whole exercise was entirely fucking pointless.

Honestly, I can’t even remember how to count to ten in Italian now, and it frankly scares me how little I retained (particularly when this was pre-fatherhood, so there was no excuse for my brain turning to mush). Then again, over the course of twelve weeks, at no point did we ever cover ‘food and drink’, or ‘saying something sexy to make women go weak at the knees’, so arguably it was a waste of time anyway. Why would I ever visit Italy for a week or two, and need to ask someone when their birthday is, or the best way to the library? I can’t even count to ten in Italian, so what the fuck could I hope to achieve in one of their libraries?

Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, Ollie’s topic at school this term has been Italy (following on from Ancient Rome and Pompeii last term) and, to conclude their time in Year 4, on Wednesday the class created their own Italian cafe, so they could cook for their parents as a treat. How delightful (said with only a hint of sarcasm).

Having been split into small groups a couple of weeks ago, the children then set about creating their own menu (from an admittedly limited range of options suggested to them by the teachers), and Ollie’s group decided to serve margherita pizza, followed by panna cotta with strawberries. Ok, perhaps not my first choices from an Italian menu, but still perfectly acceptable, and I suspect the children were restricted by what the teachers knew how to cook in the first place. Besides, when the alternative dessert option was tiramisu (which, as we all know, is Italian for ‘creamy work of the devil himself’), Ollie could have done a hell of a lot worse – pun intended.

Then, to save the expense/hassle of each child having to bring a vast array of ingredients into school, each group divided the shopping list between them to lessen the burden, and Ollie was given the task of sourcing the following:

‘00’ flour

Mozzarella

Cornflour

Whole milk

Ok, the list could have been easier, because we only had one of those ingredients in the house at the time (cornflour, for anyone who is curious), but when I spotted that one girl’s parents had been lumbered with ‘gelatine leaves, vanilla pods and yeast’, I decided not to complain too loudly. At least two of our ingredients didn’t necessitate a trip to sodding Waitrose.

Now, had the meal itself been a disaster, I would have felt sorry for Ollie and his classmates, as I know how much effort they put into designing and running ‘Café Italiano’, but equally it might have made for a funnier and more entertaining blog entry. As it happens, however, the event was a complete triumph.

When we arrived, the classroom had been emptied, with all the desks moved outside next to the playing field so we could dine ‘al fresco’. Each table of four then had place settings, and generally speaking there were two children plus an adult each per table, but Ollie and I were sat with a couple of boys whose parents couldn’t be there. Oh well, at least that meant I didn’t have to make polite conversation with a parent I didn’t know/like.

Once seated, the teacher came round with water for everyone (I did think about jokingly asking to see the wine list, but then stopped myself when I realised she was probably quite stressed, and therefore not in any sort of mood to be dealing with dickhead jokers like me).

While the drinks were being served, and some late comers were still being seated, one man spotted his daughter returning from the kitchen/classroom, and went to greet her – at which point she immediately burst into tears right next to our table. It transpired that she wasn’t expecting either of her parents to be able to attend, and was so overcome with emotion when she saw her father, she started crying with happiness.

Typically, at the same time, my hayfever must have flared up, because my eyes started watering too (shut up). It was like one of those videos you see on Facebook, where the little child doesn’t expect Daddy to make it home for Christmas, because Daddy is in the army and stationed somewhere like Iraq or Afghanistan, but then the Santa Claus in the grotto pulls his beard down and there’s Daddy and everyone cries and…. Fuck it, I’ve gone again.

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Anyway, soon after, Ollie returned from the kitchen with our first course of margherita pizza, and I have to say it looked and tasted far better than I was expecting:

While tucking in, one of the ‘Café orphans’ nearby sat down with his starter of ‘freshly baked ciabatta with olive oil’, and, having taken one bite, commented on how strong the olive oil was. Upon hearing this, a child at the table behind him, who was enjoying the same starter, piped up with ‘well, it is extra virgin, after all’, and I damn-near spit my water everywhere laughing.

Once the first courses were finished, the children disappeared back to the kitchen to fetch either their mains or desserts, depending on what second course they were offering, and Ollie presented me with a particularly lovely panna cotta, complete with strawberry compote:

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Again, this looked and tasted better than I had anticipated, and when Ollie didn’t particularly enjoy his, I even finished it for him (using the argument that I didn’t want him to get into trouble for not eating his lunch, when actually I was just being greedy).

As it happens, because my expectations of ‘Café Italiano’ had been low, I had already eaten a quick lunch before leaving the office, and secretly confided this in Ollie – while phrasing it in such a way as to not hurt his feelings. I needn’t have worried, however, as he then told me he had scoffed a roast gammon dinner in the school canteen about half an hour before I arrived, so clearly neither of us had much confidence in the café’s success.

More fool us, because the whole event went very well, and I even jokingly asked the teacher where the tip jar was situated because I was so impressed. Of course, I then immediately regretted making another joke, when she loudly announced to all the parents that they would indeed be accepting tips, and people started glaring at me.

My attempts to quickly distract everyone with some exotic sounding Italian didn’t work, either, as it transpired one of the parents spoke the language far better than me, and immediately started directing me towards the fucking library.

Thanks for reading x

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Ian Dury and the Blogheads

Disclaimer: this weeks entry has bugger all to do with Ian Dury and/or his Blockheads, but it is about live music, and I’ve been trying to use up this title for over a year (similarly, keep an eye out for ‘Blog Geldof’ and ‘Blog Marley’ making an appearance at some point), so let’s just accept it and move on, shall we?

As I briefly mentioned on Facebook earlier this week, last Saturday brought a milestone moment in my father-son relationship with Ollie: his first ever gig.

I have been desperate to take him to some ‘proper’ live music for a while (no disrespect to the local acts he has seen around Sandbach on various ‘fun days’, but it’s not the same), so when my favourite band, Terrorvision, announced they would be performing at the ‘Beautiful Day Out’ festival in Halifax, and the age restriction was 6+ (compared to most gigs in Manchester being 14+), it was a no-brainer.

Unless you grew up listening to rock and indie music in the 1990’s, as I did, you may not be too familiar with Terrorvision, and even then you may only recall their biggest hit, ‘Tequila’, but believe me when I say their live performances are the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

To give you an idea of how energetic and daft they are – particularly singer Tony Wright – ‘Tequila’ was written after he drank a lot of it while in America, then scaled the outside of a nearby Hard Rock Café, to try and make it sound ‘more Northern’ by removing the H from the sign. Only, he fell off and broke both his ankles.

Anyway, once I had purchased our tickets a few months ago (which I gave to Ollie for his birthday), I set about finding a hotel for us, as I didn’t fancy driving back late at night – and anticipated having a few beers. But, as usual, the local hoteliers had identified an opportunity to make some money, and the prices had been hiked-up faster than a tart’s dress. Even the Travelodge was suddenly over £100 a night for that weekend. Robbing bastards.

In the end, having trawled a well-known comparison site, I discovered a friendly-looking Guesthouse only a couple of miles from Halifax, and because it was cheaper than everywhere else, I didn’t mind paying for taxis to and from the venue. However, just before booking, I spotted a warning that the property was ‘unsuitable for children’, so I e-mailed the owner for more information. The following is a summary of our e-mail exchange:

“I was about to book a room for my son and I in June, but I’ve noticed your website says it’s not suitable for children?”

“How old is your son?”

“By then he’ll be nine. Why?”

“Ok, I’ll let you book [gee, thanks], but you’ll have to be responsible for your son [shame, I was hoping to dump him and piss off], and I’ll need I.D. for both of you, as well as proof you’re his father.”

My initial reaction was ‘fuck that, weirdo’, but then I didn’t want him thinking I had only lost interest because my paternity had been challenged, so I said I’d get back to him – then never did. I certainly didn’t want to stay in a place where grooming was clearly an issue.

Fortunately, I then found a different hotel nearer to the venue, and when I had satisfied myself that grooming, beastiality (well, this was Yorkshire), and sacrificial ceremonies would be frowned upon, I confirmed the booking.

The ‘Beautiful Day Out’ was part of a three-day music festival, taking place at the Piece Hall in Halifax (an 18th century cloth hall that now houses exhibits, shops and restaurants), and while another predominantly-’90s band, The Levellers, were headlining, Ollie and I were there for Terrorvision.

Since Saturday was expected to be the hottest day of the year so far, but because I wanted to travel light, our rucksack contained only sun cream and five water bottles (that’s responsible parenting right there, folks). Only, when we arrived and approached the gate, a security guard (who looked remarkably like Susan Boyle, and also turned out to be Scottish) asked to search my bag.

The conversation which followed – with apologies to my Scottish readers – went thus:

“Kin ah check yer bah?”

“Sure.”

[Uncomfortable pause while no one moves or says anything]

“Oh, sorry, did you want me to open it?”

“Aye. Ahm nae gonna, am ah?”

“Well, there’s only sun cream and water in there.”

“Ye cannae bring water in.”

“Why not? It’s nearly thirty degrees!”

“Nae liquid allowed. It’s the rools.”

“Actually, SuBo, it’s not the rules, because I read them two days ago, and they only say no alcohol or glass.”

“We changed them.”

“Since Thursday?”

“Aye.”

“That’s fucking ridiculous. I have my son with me and it’s the hottest day of the year.”

“Thir’s water inside.”

In the end, she wasn’t budging (literally, she blocked half the entrance), and since her customer service training had clearly taken place at the US Customs School of Banter, Ollie and I quickly drank a bottle each, managed to give one away, and then had to bin the other two (muttering something about ‘fucking up the planet’ in the process).

Once inside, we visited all the stalls to make dinner plans, and in doing so Ollie spotted the merchandise stand, where he begged me to buy him a Terrorvision t-shirt to commemorate the occasion. Unfortunately, the ‘ladies fit’ t-shirt (which might not have looked too big on him) was bright yellow and he didn’t like it, so he chose the unisex black t-shirt instead; which, even in the smallest size they did, looked more like a dress:

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Soon after, the music started, and I won’t bore you with the first two acts, but the third, Therapy?, were extremely sweary – which perhaps wasn’t a great idea when the crowd featured kids as young as six. I understand they are a rock band, and shouldn’t have to tone down their performance, but when the lead singer is screaming ‘fuck’ more than he wasn’t screaming ‘fuck’, even I found it a bit much.

After an hour of swearing (which inexplicably included a chant of ‘Fuck Boris Johnson’ between songs – not that anyone would want to), it was time for Terrovision’s crew to begin preparing the stage for our musical highlight.

By this point, we had already eaten dinner (partly to distract Ollie from the bad language – although I nearly swore myself when I was charged £17 for two burgers and a portion of chips), and he had also taken his inaugural festival shit (#makingmemories), but it seemed the rest of the crowd were either hungry or needed the toilet themselves, because they all suddenly vacated the area in front of the stage.

Spotting an opening, Ollie asked if we could stand near the front, and, before I had time to answer, he was weaving his way through the crowd. Had I done this alone, between people who had obviously arrived early to get a good spot, I might have faced resistance/abuse, but because it was a child nudging his way past them they allowed it, and I managed to follow while offering an apologetic ‘kids, eh?’ shrug of the shoulders.

Having identified a gap right by the barriers, Ollie squeezed in, and I stood directly behind him in case of any ‘mosh pits’ or crowd surfers (ask your parents, kids).  At this point, a bloke to my right asked if Ollie was excited, so I told him it was his first gig, and he praised Ollie for choosing such a great band. I thought about clarifying it was my idea, but didn’t want to ruin Ollie’s sudden kudos among the crowd, as more and more people were becoming aware of the young lad at the front.

Indeed, the people around us were so enamoured, as Terrorvision’s stage time got nearer and the crowd got busier, they formed a protective barrier around the two of us to keep him safe.

Soon after, it was time for the main event (as far as we were concerned), and Terrorvision did not disappoint, cramming sixteen songs into their one-hour slot, bouncing around the stage, and whipping their fans into a frenzy. Even the fact that SuBo had re-appeared directly in front of us didn’t dampen our spirits – although I did ‘enjoy’ the irony of her having confiscated our plastic bottles of water, only for a moron behind me to be swinging a glass bottle of wine around his head.

Tony Wright was on particularly good form, joking that the Piece Hall hadn’t seen a crowd that big ‘since they stopped floggin’ folk here’, and throughout the entire set Ollie bounced around and sang his heart out, much to the delight of our crowd-buddies. Afterwards, as the band departed and the cheering died down, he beamed “That. Was. Epic.” and I couldn’t have agreed more.

Desperately in need of a drink, we headed to the bar (where, rather conveniently, the ‘free tap water’ had broken, so I had to pay £2 for a bottle which was more-or-less identical to the six-pack I had paid less for earlier in the day), and we sat down to rest our weary legs.

At this point, Ollie sniffed, and asked me what the odd smell was. I instinctively answered it was weed, but then immediately anticipated a barrage of questions I didn’t have the energy for, so quickly explained that someone nearby “must have wee’d” (well, in fairness, this was a Levellers gig).

It was only then that I noticed the majority of those around us were wearing Levellers t-shirts, which went someway to explaining the weed smell (such is the Brighton-rockers fanbase), not to mention the alarming amount of tie-dye clothing, and the fact one of the burger vans was selling ‘pulled beetroot baps’. For £7. Fucking hippies.

When The Levellers took to the stage just after 9pm, I would love to tell you I was converted by their energy and music, but the truth is we got three songs in before Ollie loudly announced ‘they’re rubbish, can we go?’, and I decided – bearing in mind we were now being glared at by their fans – that, yes Ollie, it was probably best we made a swift exit.

It didn’t bother me that I was missing the headline act, because it was never about The Levellers, and the fact Ollie had not only seen my favourite band for his first ever gig, but had absolutely loved it, made every penny worthwhile.

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Well, perhaps not the £17 for those burgers and chips.

Thanks for reading x

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Noblog Laureate

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‘IF’ by Rudyard Kipling

ft. The Middle-Raged Dad (and probably Justin Bieber)

(2019 Remix)

 

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing their shit and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when everyone else tells you it’s chocolate, but you know better,

But make allowance for their doubting, and give it a quick sniff anyway;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, even though you’re really fucking tired all the time,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, unless it’s that one about Father Christmas, or the Tooth Fairy, because those are good lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, even when Isaac is being a cock again,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise. Because, let’s face it, you DON’T look good these days, and you haven’t made sense in weeks:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master, it means you’ve had more than two hours consecutive sleep, which is a win,

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim – when you are not sat on the toilet,

If you can answer your wife, when she asks ‘what are you doing in the kitchen?’, with the reply ‘marinating my chicken’, yet still not snigger like a child,

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster (or Ollie and Isaac, as you prefer to call them),

And treat those two impostors just the same (except you don’t, because at any given time you have a favourite);

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken (because she’s bound to repeat it when you least expect it)

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, or a den for the kids,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken – like the house, the car, your left foot on that fucking piece of lego….

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools (assuming you can even find your tools, because the tool box went missing months ago, and the last time you needed to put a picture up you had to use a shoe as a hammer):

If you can make one heap of all your winnings (or, if not, a giant mountain of laundry),

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, rock-paper-scissors, or even ‘pull my finger’,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings (or at least pre-children),

And never breathe a word about your loss, because other parents may judge you;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew, and occasionally your right hip if it will only stop clicking for five fucking minutes,

To serve your turn long after they are gone to school,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you (because the kids ate the last of the cereal),

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

But they ignore you and do it anyway.

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or at least master sleeping with your eyes open

‘Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, but a swift kick to the trouser-clams makes you want to vomit and cry at the same time,

If all men count with you, but none too much, because they too are fathers and have their own shit to deal with;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, because sixty seconds is all you can manage these days (and we’re not just talking about running anymore, are we?);

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a Middle-Raged Dad, my son!

Thanks for reading x

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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

Usain1

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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