Argos Catablog

This week’s entry is all about Christmas.

Now, I imagine most of you will have reacted to that opening line in one of two ways. Firstly, there will be those reading this, who – in the words of Roy Wood and Wizzard – wish it could be Christmas every day, and the 25th December cannot come fast enough.

To compensate for this, you begin preparing for Christmas at some point in early June, because it’s never too early to start planning. You reacted to that opening line with a warm glow inside, and a broad smile on your face. By this stage of the year, with December just around the corner, you can barely contain your excitement.

The second group, on the other hand, will have reacted with sheer repulsion at the mere mention of Christmas just yet. Those people who refuse to even acknowledge that Christmas exists until the 1st December each year, and if they happen to spot a mince pie on a supermarket shelf, or hear Shakin Stevens’ Merry Christmas Everyone (undoubtedly the finest of all the Christmas songs, by some margin) being played while they peruse the freezer section, they will go fucking mental. Not only that, they will make damn sure every customer within hearing range will know of their displeasure at being subjected to ‘Christmas stuff’ so early in the year.

I am somewhere in between those two camps. On the one hand, I love Christmas, and it is without doubt my favourite time of year; but by the same token, I also love Easter, yet I don’t feel the need to start stockpiling masses of chocolate in late January. I’m all for sensible planning, but there comes a point where it starts to get a bit silly. I do not necessarily subscribe to the idea Christmas should be banned until the start of December, but I do object to the sight of baubles and tinsel, when it’s still warm enough to wear shorts outside.

I know this is largely the fault of the retailers, who will start to quietly infiltrate their stock with mince pies and decorations before the August Bank Holiday weekend is out of the way, but is there really any need? If we all took a stand, together, and refused to purchase anything Christmas-related until say, after Bonfire Night, they’d soon stop it.

Sadly, my wife is very firmly in the ‘Christmas cannot come early enough’ category. This is partly because she loves nothing more than buying and wrapping presents for everyone, but mostly because she is a secondary school teacher, and Christmas means getting away from the repugnant little shits that she teaches for two whole weeks.

Unfortunately, this also means that she begins planning for Christmas as soon as she goes back to school in September (as a coping strategy, I suspect). It gives her something to aim towards, to keep her sane. As a result, she will begin buying gifts ‘to put away’ – mostly for our two boys – at the start of each academic year. This is fine at first, but the more she buys, the harder it becomes to hide the growing mountain of gifts from prying little eyes.

Admittedly, our boys are largely unaware of anything they cannot eat or destroy, so we tend to get away with hiding presents in plain sight (in fact, Ollie is generally so oblivious to what is going on around him, that we could probably store presents under his bed), but by this time of the year, we are always faced with a problem.

You see, such is my wife’s obsession with both shopping and Christmas, that she starts buying gifts at the end of summer, but doesn’t then stop until mid-December. Now, I wouldn’t mind so much if she just did all the shopping early, then ceased spending come Halloween, but the speed at which she purchases Christmas presents never falters for the final four months of the year.

The result of this, is that by mid-November, when we have our annual ‘let’s get everything out in the living room, to see what we’ve bought, and who we still need gifts for’ evening (which she enjoys far more than I do), we could honestly build an extension onto the rear of the house with all the boxes we appear to have amassed.

No word of a lie, we got the boys’ presents laid out on the carpet last week, and it looked like someone had ram-raided Argos, filled a van, and then dumped the loot between our two sofas.

A girl plays on an artwork made of unwanted toys at the solo exhibition of Japanese artist Hiroshi Fuji, in Tokyo

Actual footage

I suppose I shouldn’t complain, as she loves Christmas shopping so much, that she takes control of buying not only the boys’ presents, but also both our families’ gifts, and those for all our friends too. In fact, the only person I have to buy for, is her – and I swear that, even then, she will send subliminal messages to me when she knows I’m not listening, so that I later think I’ve had a great idea for what to get her, and it was her suggestion all along. Oh well, at least she gets what she wants this way.

The problem I foresee this year, however, is that neither of our boys is behaving particularly well at present, so unless there is a dramatic improvement over the next month, we may have to hold some of the gifts back for their birthdays (which are three days apart in May), as I don’t want them thinking bad behaviour goes unpunished.

Sure, we still have the option of Father Christmas ‘swapping’ some of their presents for potatoes (our usual threat each year, although coal works just as well if you prefer), but such is their current level of naughtiness, I fear sticking to that threat would see them with no presents whatsoever, and more spuds than McCain (the frozen food manufacturer, not the US Senator – although he does look a bit like a potato).

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Mr Potato

This year, Ollie has decided he doesn’t want his usual long list of toys from the Argos catalogue, and claims he will be happy with just a Barcelona kit, and some massive Lego ‘Scooby Doo Mansion’ he has set his sights on. In some ways, I’m pleased he now acknowledges that growing up sometimes means receiving fewer (but more expensive) presents; however at the same time, it shows a complete ignorance of just how much those two gifts happen to cost.

I admire his apparent restraint, but not only is the gesture undermined when the two presents seemingly cost more than a decent family holiday, I also know he’s a lying little shit.  Sure, he can make such a bold statement now, but even if he did receive both the Barcelona kit and Scooby Doo Lego on Christmas morning (which he won’t), is he honestly going to sit there, content, while Isaac continues unwrapping gifts for the next half an hour? No, he’s going to sulk like a little bitch.

Saying he only wants two very expensive gifts for Christmas, is like me saying I only want an Aston Martin and Holly Willoughby this year (which, if my wife is reading this, is exactly what I would like, please). Ok, the logistics of arranging this are somewhat complicated (one promises to be a luxurious and thrilling ride…. and the other is an Aston Martin), but it’s what I truly want, and Christmas should be a time of making your loved ones happy.

Still, socks are nice too. I always need socks.

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Happy BlogDay, Son

On Monday, we celebrated seven years since

The day when (with rather more than a wince)

My wife gave birth to our eldest son

Her oven pushed forth a small wrinkly bun

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It’s fair to say we expected a girl

But everything happened in so much of a whirl

It took me a while to realise with joy

That our first ever baby, was actually a boy

My wife is a teacher at an all-boys school

And during her pregnancy set a strict rule

To avoid the names of some kids who she taught

Which made it quite tough, but after some thought

There was one we agreed on, so we told the midwives

That Oliver Martin had entered our lives

He was cleaned and weighed, an outfit arranged

Then I had my first cuddle, and everything changed

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I cried like a girl, I’ll gladly admit

Overcome with emotion, and scared half to shit

I was now responsible (along with my wife)

For the safety and wellbeing of this tiny life

As I sat there, proudly holding my lad

All I could think was “Fuck me, I’m a Dad!”

I’m sure that I speak for my wife and I, when

I say that it’s been quite the whirlwind since then

There’s been feeding, and screaming, and teething, and naps

Not to mention all manner and colour of craps

He learned to crawl, and then stand, and then walk, and then run

And before we knew it he’d gone and turned one

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Now here we are six more years along

It’s fair to say that I’ve got some things wrong

But I try the very best to do what I can

To raise a polite, well-mannered and respectful young man

He’s handsome and clever; he’s wacky and fun

I couldn’t be prouder to call him my son

He supports Stockport County, just like his Dad

But this particular Hatter, is especially mad

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There is honestly no feeling that I enjoy more

Than seeing his face light up when County score

We’ve shared joy and elation, disappointment and tears

(He even ignores all the swearing he hears)

I know that his childhood won’t always last

But it’s sad to think how he’s growing up fast

It’s his last year in Infants; done his first SATs exam

Match of the Day is his favourite programme

He’s learning guitar, and just lost his first tooth

I wish life could slow down, to tell you the truth

But for now, I’ll just watch him, and try to enjoy

The years we have left while he’s my little boy

It might seem quite soppy, but I’m just trying to say

How proud I am of him (in my own unique way)

Oliver Martin, you are second-to-none

So, this blog is for you…

Happy Birthday, son.

 

 

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Party Loot Blog

Today marks the third-anniversary of when my wife and I bade a fond farewell to any chance of getting a decent night’s sleep ever again. Or, to put it another way, it’s Isaac’s third birthday.

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Yes, shortly after 4:30pm, exactly three years ago to the day, this nocturnal miscreant graced us with his shriveled presence, amid screams from my good lady wife, and the dulcet tones of Noel Edmonds in the background (Deal or No Deal was on the television, just in case you thought the bearded weirdo had crept into Leighton Hospital, to provide running commentaries on childbirth: “We know what we don’t want to see, but let’s find out, after a break…”).

To say Isaac has been hard work ever since, would be something of an understatement; but he can also be utterly adorable, and with a flick of his Donald Trump hair, and a flash of that cheeky grin, he can usually get away with most things. We wouldn’t change him for the world (probably).

Then, on Monday, Ollie turns seven. In his own unique way, Ollie can sometimes be an insufferable little shit too, but we also love him dearly – and equally. Well, I say ‘equally’, but of course you never love your children equally, because you always have a favourite at any given time (https://middlerageddad.com/2015/05/01/fighting-like-cats-and-blogs/),. Still, you get the idea.

Having two children so close together (in terms of birthdays, not their ages), can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, we get to celebrate their birthdays at the same time. However, on the flip side of that, we have to celebrate their birthdays at the same fucking time.

Ok, it’s nice that they both have their birthdays in May – which is frankly a far better month to celebrate your birthday than either mine (February) or my wife’s (November) – but it can be a monumental nightmare to hide, and afford, two piles of presents at the same time. That challenge, however, is nothing compared with the task of simultaneously coordinating two children’s birthday parties.

On the one hand, you could argue that a joint birthday party would be the ideal solution, and would get the whole torrid affair over with in one afternoon, but the boys were born four years apart, and want very different things from their parties – even though, this year, both events will take place at the same venue, and will be catered for by the same person (my wife).

Isaac’s party took place last weekend, while Ollie’s is next weekend. I know what you’re thinking and, yes, it is rather strange to not have either of their parties on the actual weekend of their birthdays, but that is for one very good reason: Ollie initially insisted that he should take precedence as the older child, and have his party this weekend, while Isaac would have to move his party to another time (because Mummy and Daddy had said there was no fucking way they were hosting both in the same weekend).

So, having booked Isaac’s party for the weekend before his birthday (because, frankly, so long as he got a party, it could have been in January for all he cared), Ollie then realised – as did Daddy – that tomorrow is the National League North Play-Off Final, and just in case Stockport County achieved the unthinkable and actually reached the final (which, inevitably, they did not), Ollie and Daddy would be otherwise engaged – and Daddy would be far too hungover on Sunday to face his own children, let alone other people’s.

As a result, Ollie’s party was immediately postponed to the Sunday after his birthday, and we now face the rather unusual situation of having their actual birthday weekend without either party taking place (and no football to go to). Frankly, this weekend is turning out to be quite the disappointment – although I do still have Eurovision to get drunk to, and ridicule, tomorrow night.

Isaac’s party last weekend, involved fourteen toddlers (and a few older siblings) running around and screaming for an hour, whilst falling off various pieces of play equipment – including a giant bouncy castle – at our local leisure centre in Sandbach. This was followed by an hour of party food and games, throughout which Isaac had a wonderful time socialising with his friends:

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My wife, party planner extraordinaire, was in charge of most of the arrangements (booking the venue, invites, balloons, food and drink, cake, party bags….), whereas my only jobs were to prepare a playlist of party music (that the children could listen to whilst eating, then dance to afterwards), and to not behave like a total dick at the party itself. Both of these, inevitably, were a struggle.

First of all, whilst I like to think of my music collection as varied (even, dare I say it, eclectic? – although anyone who claims their music tastes are ‘eclectic’, is generally a tit), apparently many of the two-thousand songs on my iPod are not suitable for toddlers.

Well, at least according to my wife, who dismissed the first three play-lists that I came up with: Celtic guitar-based folk; Soft rock ballads; and Popular film and television themes of the 1980’s. I tried to suggest that children of all ages will appreciate Roxette, and if they haven’t seen a single episode of Airwolf, then their parents are doing an appalling job of raising them; however, yet again, my opinion was dismissed. Thank goodness I went thought that weird Little Mix and Taylor Swift phase a while back (which, in all honesty, is ongoing), otherwise the whole shebang would have been utterly kiboshed.

Having been a father for almost exactly seven years, I like to now consider myself relatively comfortable when surrounded by groups of young children (I implore you to not read too much into that sentence), so long as they follow my three golden rules:

  1. Don’t wipe food, vomit, or faeces on me;
  2. Don’t shriek directly into my ear from close range;
  3. Don’t call me anything derogatory, like ‘poopyhead’.

Sadly, that’s pretty much all young children want to do at birthday parties (with the possible exception of the shit-smearing), so it was inevitable that I was going to have a pretty miserable time of it. Of course, if any of the parents who were actually at the party happen to read this, none of what I just wrote is directed towards your child – who, I have to say, was an absolute delight.

I’m joking, obviously.  Not only was the party a relative success, but the only child to step out of line at any point was our own – although he stepped out of line at pretty much every possible opportunity. From the time his first guest arrived, he more or less refused to interact with anyone (only pausing to briefly acknowledge their existence if they brought him a present); spent no more than thirty seconds on the massive bouncy castle we’d paid for; and sulked when everyone had the audacity to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to him.  I mean, the sheer nerve of some children.

Actually, the only time he perked up, was when Daddy’s music came on. #win

Fortunately, Ollie’s party next weekend is likely to be less mentally and physically draining. He naturally wants a football party – because that’s all he talks about these days – followed by lots of food and games. Essentially, he wants what I want from a birthday party (except for the alcohol, topless waitresses, and a nap afterwards), but am not allowed, because society dictates that I must act my age.

Why? Why can’t a man of nearly forty have a kick around with his mates, play ‘tag’, then eat his own body-weight in cocktail sausages and cake? Why can’t my friends bring me Star Wars toys, and sing to me? It’s just not fair.

The answer, of course, is that men can have all those things, but we have to refer to them as ‘stag parties’, and rather than have them once a year, we usually only get to have them once, and end up married shortly afterwards.

And no party is worth that.

(just kidding, dear)

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Chicken Blogs

This week’s entry was going to be about our firm’s Christmas party a couple of weeks ago, and to be honest I had well over 1,000 words penned before I decided to ditch it and start again with something else, but I can pretty much sum up the evening in two paragraphs:

I got drunk, then realised I was going to have to dance, so got even more drunk. As the evening drew to a close, a lady collapsed on the dance floor, and, having published my blog entry about fainting earlier that day, I decided that not only was my presence on the dance floor some kind of fate, but I was suitably qualified to offer medical assistance – ignoring the fact that she worked for a GP surgery, and most of her colleagues were either nurses or doctors.

Undeterred, I insisted on trying to offer advice (‘You’re a nurse, I get it, but this has happened to me before’), and was in the process of trying to lift her legs up (the collapsed lady, not the nurse), when one unnecessarily aggressive chap told me to fuck off. So, being a lover not a fighter, fuck off I did, but then another bloke stepped in, squared up to original dickhead, and started a brawl – which ended up with a security guard getting head-butted. We scarpered, and the rest of the evening is a little hazy. 

So, that’s my original entry in a nutshell. Quite how I stretched that beyond 1,000 words is a mystery, although I suspect many years spent as a lawyer might have helped.

Then, just as I was mulling over what material might replace it, the Comedy Gods smiled down on me, and Isaac got chicken pox.

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That’s not to say I found his itchy misery amusing, far from it, but I had to take my last day of annual leave to look after him on Monday, and decided to keep a record of events….

07:30

My wife just left for work, and I’m stuck with two particularly grumpy children. Isaac has every reason to be, as he looks like an extra from The Walking Dead, but quite why Ollie is being such an offensive little twat remains a mystery.

07:45

Despite Ollie’s mood, and Isaac’s persistent itching, I have managed to get them both sat at the kitchen table eating cereal.

I initially considered this to be a win, until Ollie chose to have a completely unnecessary tantrum. Essentially, he was lining up some toy animals, to represent a ‘Lion Guard’ (crap Disney spin-off from The Lion King, don’t ask) and insisted that this:

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is a honey badger.

Clearly, without any shadow of doubt, it is a cat, and I’d even go so far as to suggest it is Jess from Postman Pat, but one thing it is very much not, is a fucking honey badger. I’m not even sure I know what a ‘honey badger’ looks like – other than a strong suspicion that it bears more than a passing resemblance to a ‘normal’ badger – but I am 99% certain it doesn’t look anything like a black and white cat.

It’s not often that I side with Isaac, over Ollie, when it comes to matters of intellect (in his defence, Isaac is four years Ollie’s junior, and has had a number of head injuries of late), but on this occasion I am very much Team Isaac. Which has only angered Ollie all the more, and made the entire screaming dispute rather confusing – because I am in no doubt that he knows full well it’s a cat, so I’m not sure why he’s being such a dick about it.

08:15

Progress has improved considerably. I have managed to put a load of washing on, pay some bills, half-listen to Ollie read his school book (then wrote a note in his planner, giving the impression we spent yesterday afternoon lovingly reading together in front of a burning fire, rather than a rushed five minutes this morning while I forced his shoes on), and I fixed Isaac’s pushchair ready for the school run – the wheel fell off in Waitrose yesterday, amid a string of curse words that I surprised even myself with.

09:15

School run complete, and aside from Ollie crying twice, I have safely delivered him to his teacher, fed and fully clothed. Since I now have 50% fewer children than twenty minutes ago, the day is bound to improve.

09:30

Realising that I still hadn’t booked my car in for its emissions upgrade with those naughty folk at Volkswagen, I phoned on the off-chance they could fit me in today, and they can – so long as I get the car to them in the next hour. Fine, except I want to hang the washing out before I go.

10:15

The final spin cycle finished ages ago, but the door is still locked. I’ve tried kicking the machine, and calling it an ‘insufferable piece of shit’, but neither worked.

10:25

Washing finally finished and on the dryer. I might have been able to hang it out quicker, but Isaac insisted on ‘helping’. And, by that, I mean throwing wet socks at me, before running off with a pair of my pants on his head.

10:40

Arrived at Volkswagen ten minutes late. They appeared to be put out by my tardiness, until I pointed out that the only reason I was there on my last day of holiday, with a sick child, was because they are a bunch of lying, cheating, rule-dodging fuckers, and we decided to call it quits. They have assured me that the car will be ready for 1pm, which means I can take Pox Boy into Crewe for a bit.

11.10

Turns out my recollection of the distance between VW and the town centre is woefully inaccurate. I’ve been walking for nearly half an hour, hunched over Isaac’s crappy pushchair (the handle won’t extend to suit anyone over 5’4”, and the steering appears to have been modelled on the QE2), and I’m still nowhere near. I’m inclined to Google which is longer – this journey, or the river Nile.

11:45

Made it to the retail park in Crewe, and headed for Costa. Handed over life savings for two drinks, a piece of cake for me, and a penguin biscuit for Isaac.

He initially wanted a penguin biscuit, then chose a cookie, and finally a gingerbread man, before settling back on the penguin biscuit. Just as I was about to buy it, he changed his mind again to the cookie.

Then, as soon as I had made the purchase, he demanded the fucking penguin biscuit. I decided to teach him a lesson, and insisted he have the cookie…. but within ten seconds, I gave in to his embarrassing screams and queue-jumped to make yet another swap.

“Hi. Yes, I know you just served me. Yes, I was the guy with the indecisive little shit. Turns out, he does want the penguin biscuit after all – if you could exchange it again please. Yes, I’ll be sure to tell him you hate him.”

11:55

The women next to me are giving me filthy looks, because I have apparently brought the Bubonic Plague into their miserable lives. I’ve tried having a loud conversation with Isaac, about how he’s much better and no longer contagious, but this has not appeased them.

To make matters worse, Isaac has now finished his penguin biscuit, as well as most of my cake and hot chocolate, and is demanding the cookie we put back. Time to leave (but not before letting him cough over the woman next to me as we pass).

12:30

Have managed to buy all my family’s Christmas cards, including a ‘Merry Christmas Brother and His Pregnant Wife’ (see, Mum, I can buy overly specific cards too), and have started the long walk back to VW, just in case they haven’t also lied about my car being ready for 1:00pm.

12:50

Just encountered the scummiest man in Crewe (which is some achievement). He hurriedly overtook us as we were walking towards the train station, then dashed to pick up a discarded fag packet on the pavement, which he obviously thought I had my eye on. No, mate, be my guest.

He then turned, while checking through the sodden packet, and shouted ‘well, you gotta check, just in case, eh?’ Amazingly, I found myself nodding in agreement, but this only confirmed his suspicion that we were indeed in competition, and so he scuttled off to make sure he was first to the next one.

13:10

Arrived back at VW, ten minutes late again. Naturally, the car was only ‘nearly ready’, but they would give me a shout in a few minutes.

13:30

Lying bastards.

13:45

The car is finally ready.

The generous people at VW, by way of an apology for their multi-million pound scam, have given me a VW gift set, comprising a VW key ring, a VW key fob, a VW pen, a VW flask, and two VW business cards, in case they can ever be of assistance in the future, should I need something else illegally tampered with.

They have also apparently washed the car – which I was initially grateful for, until I remembered that I had washed it myself only yesterday. So now I’m just left feeling insulted, as if they saw the job I had done yesterday, and decided to make it better. Cheeky swines.

They’ve also done a ‘health check’, and have told me that various parts of the car need attention, so although the emissions upgrade is free, if I would care to spend my children’s university fund on some brake pads, they’d be happy to help. Not a chance.

14:05

Don’t judge me, but after the morning I’ve had, I’m taking Isaac to McDonalds for lunch. Well, I’m not taking him inside, clearly (not after the Costa incident), but we’ll get a Drive-Thru and take it home.

14:15

Had a row with Isaac at the Drive-Thru. He only wants beans on toast for lunch, but when I said I’d happily make that for him at home, he screamed and insisted that he wanted it from McDonalds. I tried to explain that McDonalds don’t do beans on toast, but he wasn’t having it, so I had to ask ‘Sally One-Star’ at the Drive-Thru window to play along.

Quite why I thought someone who struggles with the concept of a ‘plain hamburger’, would be able to master a bit of impromptu role-play with an irrational toddler, I don’t know.

14:30

Finally home, and having wolfed down my burgers, fries, and diet coke (the bloody milkshake machine wasn’t working, as if my day couldn’t get any worse), I feel much better.

No, of course I don’t, I just ate a McDonalds. I feel like shit and hate myself.

Time for a lie down.

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I’m Forever Blogging Bubbles

Hopefully, the title of this entry won’t overexcite any stray West Ham fans, who have stumbled across my blog whilst trying this ‘reading’ thing they’ve heard so much about, since the following has absolutely nothing to do with their football club.

People often ask me what bath time is like at our house (note: may not be true) and, assuming they don’t want an in-depth account of my own bathing routine – although I’m happy to dedicate a later entry to this, if the demand is out there – I have opted instead to provide a typical account of our boys’ pre-bed bath time.

Generally speaking, I am in charge of running the bath, which is less to do with my profound skills of temperature-gauging (with an elbow, obvs) and bubble-maximisation, and more to do with the fact that it allows me five minutes of peace and quiet to sit on the toilet in our bathroom, checking my e-mails and Facebook. So long as I audibly swirl the water every thirty seconds or so, my wife is non-the-wiser. Well, until she reads this.

When it’s time to (rather reluctantly) shout down that the bath is ready, I can often hear my wife trying to coax the boys away from the television and up the stairs. As you might imagine, this is usually a struggle, since if there is one thing that young boys hate, it’s moving one step closer to bed.

To combat this, she has designed a clever little routine, whereby she will loudly announce ‘last one up the stairs smells like Daddy’. Harsh. Sadly, rather than protest ‘But mother dear, Daddy smells simply divine’ (or something less camp and middle-class), the threat of smelling like me is usually enough for them to immediately sprint for the stairs. I wouldn’t mind so much, but I personally think I do smell quite nice most of the time, and the irony is, it’s usually my wife who follows the boys upstairs (to make sure neither of them sneaks back down), so it’s her who smells like me anyway. Serves her right for being mean.

Isaac, being two, still requires assistance getting undressed ready for the bath, whereas Ollie, who is now six, is able to almost completely strip himself. I say ‘almost completely’, because I swear to God, if he tries to climb into the bath with a single sock left on just one more time, I’m not going to be responsible for my actions. It’s like he is missing whatever part of the brain is responsible for acknowledging the left foot.

In the time it takes for Ollie’s final item of clothing to be removed (and for him to burst into tears because ‘Daddy called me an idiot’), Isaac usually appears in the bathroom and proudly announces to everyone he is ‘nudey’. We can see this for ourselves, naturally, but he likes to make certain we are all fully-appreciating his naked form.

Once Ollie has climbed into the bath, more often than not with his pasty-white buttocks passing dangerously close to my face (although I suppose I would prefer that to him facing the other way), I then have to catch Isaac mid ‘nudey dance’, and lift him in too.

Naturally, we recognise the universal rule of ‘eldest goes tap end’, and Ollie will park himself accordingly, but lately Isaac has refused to sit down for several minutes, insisting instead on standing there and protesting that the water is ‘too cold’. The first few times this happened, I topped up the bath with more hot water, but he still insisted it was too cold for him to sit down. It got to the point where I was adding so much extra hot water, I could have cooked a lobster in there, so eventually I would have to force him to sit down – by tickling the backs of his knees.

It took me some time – and on the verge of a trip to Leighton Hospital’s burns unit – to realise Isaac doesn’t know his ‘cold’ from his ‘hot’, hence why no amount of additional water from the hot tap was appeasing him.

Even now, when I deliberately try to make the bath cold, he still insists the water is above a temperature at which he would be happy, so he’s either got into the habit of automatically saying it regardless of my efforts, or he’s just doing it to piss me off.

Once both boys are successfully submerged, my first challenge is to get them to brush their teeth. This might seem strange, but we have found it far easier to combine washing and teeth brushing at the same time, for two main reasons:

  1. There is less chance of forgetting to do it;
  2. Ollie, in particular, has a habit of getting toothpaste all down himself, so it’s preferable to brush his teeth while he’s naked, and easier to clean.

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Once that’s out of the way, we start the process of actually washing them. Ollie has got quite good at the lathering-up element of bathing, so I usually leave him to his own devices, but he is truly woeful at rinsing off the soap afterwards. Many a time I have forgotten, and I only become aware of how soapy his underarms still are, when I go to lift him out of the tub and he slips out of my hands, ending up somewhere north of our bed in the adjacent room.

Isaac, like most toddlers, doesn’t like being soaped up, and will endeavour to escape me and my lathered hands by any means possible, seemingly unaware of the fact he is restrained to one half of a 5.5’ x 2.5’ ceramic bath tub. Despite the odds, he is surprisingly adept at evading me, and it can often take a few minutes to complete the soaping process, amid wild thrashing and squeals (some of which is him). Imagine covering your hands in slippery liquid soap, and then trying to clean a particularly-agile cat, and you’d be half way there.

It is usually around this point that Ollie will realise bath time is coming to an end, with only the hair-washing (which neither of them enjoy) to complete before going to bed, so he will often try to distract me, either by entering into a conversation about football, or by attempting to start a game.

One such delaying tactic, which he applied this week, genuinely went as follows:

Ollie:      “Daddy, let’s play a game”

Me:        “Such as?”

Ollie:      “Let’s do an A-Z list”

Me:        “What of? And don’t say football teams, films, or children in your year at school, as we’ve done those a million times.”

Ollie:      “Oh. Ok. How about dinosaurs?”

Me:          “What?”

Ollie:       “Come on, Daddy. It’s easy. I’ll start….Achelousaurus.”

Me:           “Fuck off.” (slightly exaggerated, but it was along those lines)

Ollie:        “Daddy! B is easy. You must know a dinosaur beginning with B!”

Me:           “Oh. Oh, yeah. Brontosaurus.”

Ollie:        “Good one!”

Me:           “Don’t be patronising.”

Ollie:        “What does that mean?”

Me:           “Never mind. C.”

Ollie:        “Oh. Erm…. I can’t think of one.”

Me:            “Ollie! C is easy. You must know a dinosaur beginning with C!”

Ollie:         “Do you?”

Me:            “Well, no. But that’s not the point. It’s your stupid game, and we’re stuck already. Isaac, any thoughts?”

Isaac:        “WILLY!”

Me:            “Thanks, Isaac.”

All the while, I could hear my wife laughing at us from the bedroom (wouldn’t be the first time she’s laughed at me in the bedroom), and I initially assumed this was because we were struggling with Ollie’s pathetic game, but it turned out she had looked online to try and help us, and had discovered a dinosaur called ‘Fukuisaurus’.

A rare shot of both boys smiling in the bath

Once teeth have been brushed and ridiculous games have been played, the next – and most difficult – challenge, is washing their hair. This is usually the last step before trying to get them out and ready for bed, partly because I need to distance myself from them once the ordeal is over.

Isaac has got marginally more tolerant of having his hair washed lately, but still doesn’t like it, and Ollie would claim there was soapy water in his eyes even if I had tipped the jug of water down the sink and nowhere near him. Honestly, he’s such a wuss (but I sympathise slightly, as I hate getting water in my eyes too).

After their hair has been washed, I then attempt to get them out of the bath and into their towels. Amazingly, despite the reluctance to get in there not fifteen minutes earlier, they both then decide that the bath is infinitely better than going to bed, and they refuse to leave. Ollie can usually be persuaded/sufficiently threatened within a few minutes, but Isaac will scream as soon as I try to lift him out. I can’t win.

When the boys were babies, I used to enjoy the father-son bonding that bath time provided, but nowadays I more often than not leave the bathroom a soaked and broken man.

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An even rarer shot of me smiling at bath time

There’s no entry next week, as we’re off to Disneyland Paris (sadly, we’re having to take the boys with us, too). Hmmm, a week in France surrounding by oversized irritating cartoon characters – surely there’s no comedy blog material to be had there…..?

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Blogs Will Be Blogs

On Sunday, I took the boys to ‘Good Time Charlies’.

Now, I anticipate that you will have reacted to that opening line in one of three ways:

  1. If you have a particularly dirty mind, you might have assumed that ‘taking the boys to Good Time Charlies’ is an appalling euphemism for having sex. It isn’t (so far as I know), but even if it is, I would not be blogging about that kind of thing – I’m not that desperate for material…. yet;
  2. If you are not especially dirty of mind, but equally not from our neck of the woods, you might have thought that ‘Good Time Charlies’ is some kind of strip club. Again, it’s not, but don’t feel bad, as that’s what I assumed it was when I first heard about it. It certainly sounds like it should be a strip club (not that I would know, obviously);
  3. If you do happen to be from our little corner of Cheshire, and you have children of your own, there is a good chance you are familiar with the glorious haven that is ‘Good Time Charlies’, and will have reacted with a knowing smile, since it is, in actual fact, a soft play centre in Crewe.

It is by no means the greatest soft play centre ever designed, but when you consider that it is located in Crewe, a place so desolate that even the Halfords on Grand Junction Retail Park is rated as the second-best tourist-attraction on Trip Advisor (after the train station), it is – particularly for unimaginative parents like myself – the default means of tiring your kids out on a Sunday.

Like most soft play centres, Good Time Charlies has a huge maze of cushioned obstacles and slides for kids to throw themselves over and bounce off, and this particular one is designed to look like a castle:

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It’s like a medieval Fun House, only without the go-karts and those hot twins.

Adjacent to the main ‘castle’, there is also a smaller area for babies and toddlers to play in; a sensory room; a ‘party room’ (again, not a strip club, remember); an indoor football pitch and, rather bizarrely, a hairdressers (although I have never seen this open, but that might be because I always tend to take the boys on a Sunday).

Once I had signed us in and paid, we all took our shoes off (this is compulsory for going on the equipment, we weren’t just being overly polite), and I immediately noticed my first mistake – I was wearing the worst pair of socks ever. I mean, they weren’t distasteful or inappropriate (I got rid of that pair ages ago), but they were old, grey, bobbled and, as I discovered to my horror when I took my shoes off, holier than the Pope himself.

Bizarrely, I had been putting off wearing these socks all week (I actually intended to throw them out, but felt like I should get just one more wear out of them, for old time’s sake), in case anyone at work saw the state of them – irrational, really, bearing in mind no one at work was ever likely to see my socks. Instead, I chose to wear them on the very day I would be taking my shoes off (and crawling around) in public. I astound even myself sometimes.

Still, in hindsight, I only wish that my socks had been the most embarrassing thing about me that day.

Ollie is currently mad about football. It’s the only thing he plays during break times at school, and virtually all he talks about at home. Normally, as a result, he would head straight for the indoor football pitch as soon as his shoes were off (often while they are still in mid-air), but he could tell Isaac wanted to go in the ‘big castle’, so he agreed we should go there first.

The problem with the castle, is that it is the main attraction, and is generally aimed at kids around Ollie’s age, so when Isaac goes running off into the depths of colourfully padded apparatus, I have no choice other than to follow. Many parents don’t, and will allow their toddlers to venture off alone, but I have this horrible affliction where I actually care about my children, and I would rather avoid a trip to Leighton A&E if possible.

Unlike Ollie, who was an intolerable wimp until around a year ago (and still is, on occasion), Isaac is utterly fearless, and was straight up one of the ramps to the middle level of the castle, before I could get anywhere near him. He did, however, pause momentarily for a hurriedly taken – and consequently rather blurry – photo:

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By the time my ageing and decrepit legs hauled me up there, he was already around the corner, across some kind of bridge and walkway, and while he again paused with Ollie for a ‘thumbs up’ photo (a stalling tactic for me to try and catch my breath), he was then off again up another ramp to the top level:

He was like an adorable little monkey…. if monkeys wore dungarees.

Once he reached the top level, he fortunately headed for the shorter of two slides (the main one goes from the very top of the castle to the very bottom, and I would never have got to him in time), and since the end of the slide was near to me, I crouched down (collapsed) to await his arrival.

What I didn’t know, was that a much older kid (I later heard the ‘mother’ shout at him, and he had one of ‘those’ names, where you immediately know he’ll end up in prison one day) had pushed in, and when he arrived at the bottom of the slide rather than Isaac, he thought it would be funny to run up and scream in my face.

In hindsight, it probably wasn’t appropriate to tell a child to go fuck himself, but he really made me jump, and I had reacted before I knew what I was saying. In my defence, my heart rate was already high from running around after the boys, and this little shit damn-near finished me off. I’m not proud of myself, but he certainly didn’t do it again.

He was, however, just a child (albeit one that shared many similarities with a rabid howler monkey), and I guess his behaviour could have been due to a mixture of adrenaline and the excitement of being allowed out of his cage, but that doesn’t excuse the two grown men, who then commando-rolled past me a minute later. I’m not even sure they had brought any kids with them, and they were treating the place like their personal Krypton Factor assault course.

Their behaviour – particularly around young children – was appalling, and liable to cause an injury, so I stood and turned to face them, pushed my sleeves up (which was entirely unnecessary, as I was wearing a t-shirt), and then tutted very loudly, while making a mental reminder to write a strongly worded e-mail to the owners when I got home. That’d show ’em. Ruffians.

Once the boys had finally grown bored of the slide (what felt like three to four hours later), Ollie decided he wanted to go and practice taking penalties on the football pitch, so we began navigating our way out of the castle.

We ended up taking a different route down and, in my haste to keep up with the boys, I didn’t spot a particularly low beam, and managed to crack my head on it. Ok, it was well padded – as you would expect in such an environment – but I hit it at such speed that it really bloody hurt.

Once I had located the boys, with my head and pride still equally smarting, I steered them towards the indoor football pitch, making sure Isaac was near me, as I didn’t want him getting knocked over or hit by a ball. I know, from experience, that there is always one father who considers himself something of a semi-pro footballer, which invariably ends with a child getting hurt by an over-zealously struck ball, but I honestly didn’t expect that father to be me. I thought I was better than that (if we ignore the earlier swearing).

Fortunately, it was someone else’s child who took the full brunt of my twenty-yard free kick towards Ollie in goal, so at least I didn’t have to put up with the tears afterwards. Frankly, it serves them right for wandering across the pitch. I decided to leave Ollie to play with some other boys, and Isaac and I left for a bit of ‘quiet time’.

In the toddler section, there are lots of building blocks, and like most children Isaac enjoys nothing more than watching Daddy lovingly build a tower, for him to immediately kick the crap out of. This time, however, he started to build his own tower, followed by a castle and various other masterpieces. Here are a few of his finest works:

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Harbour with Cruise ships

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Preston Bus Station

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Sandbach Cobbles

As I sat there, watching Isaac create obscure works of art, I suddenly sensed another child behind me. I apprehensively turned around, and came face-to-face with a snotty little monster, who sniffled “Here” and handed me a particularly gloopy tissue. I was so taken by surprise, I actually put my hand out for it, before immediately dropping it in disgust, and looking around to see if anyone was going to claim responsibility for him.

If his parents were nearby, they certainly didn’t want to admit he was theirs, and things then got even more uncomfortable when he asked where the toilet was. I pointed him in the right direction, but he just looked at me blankly and held his hand out.

Now, if there’s one thing you want to avoid in a children’s soft-play centre, it’s taking someone else’s kid by the hand and leading them to the toilet. Parents – and, indeed, society in general – tend to frown on that kind of thing.

So, I did what any rational person would do in that situation – I turned around and pretended he wasn’t there. Look, I’m fully aware he may have pissed himself (or worse), but it wasn’t my problem. Besides, Isaac has had some kind of stomach bug since the middle of the week, and I’ll wager it was this little grubby little twat which gave it to him. I hope the parents also got it, and have spent every waking moment crouched over the toilet ever since.

I decided it was time for lunch, so once the boys had chosen their meals, we sat down and waited for them to arrive. I sent Ollie to get some cutlery, at which point Isaac started loudly shouting what sounded like “Nice! Fuck! Nice! Fuck!”

I knew he meant ‘Knife’ and ‘Fork’, but apparently the parents around us weren’t as fluent in his particular brand of toddler-speak, and gave me some very disapproving looks.

All apart from one pretty lady, who was looking at us and smiling. My immediate reaction was that she was attracted to me, and I started to smile back with my very best ‘Mummy left us for the window-cleaner’ puppy eyes, but I quickly realised that – even in Crewe – it was highly unlikely that she wanted me.

My next thought, was that she did understand Isaac, and had found the awkward humour in the situation, so she was smiling in a mixture of amusement and sympathy. Yes, that must be it, surely.

It was only then that I noticed my crotch was feeling wet, and I glanced down to see Isaac pouring his blackcurrant juice over the front of my trousers.  To make matters worse, the snotty little shit who had needed the toilet, was watching from the other side of the room and grinning.

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Blog Behaviour

Long-time readers of this blog, may recall an entry many moons ago (Blog #20 – ‘Fighting Like Cats and Blogs’), in which I discussed how parents of multiple children will always have a favourite.

If you have stuck with me long enough to remember that entry, particularly through the dark days of the top ten music and film countdowns (look, I enjoyed them), then I salute you. In fact, I can do better than that, I love you.

In contrast, if you are a relative newcomer to the blog – welcome! – or have forgotten the entry I am referring to (I can hardly criticise you for this, when I can barely remember writing it myself), then perhaps you would like to take the time to read/re-read it, so you know what I’m going on about?

Go on, the rest of us can wait, I’ll even give you a handy link:

https://middlerageddad.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/fighting-like-cats-and-blogs/

(Hey, listen, while they’re away, what do we think about their new hair/glasses/boyfriend/girlfriend (delete as applicable)? I know, right? Puhleeease. What on earth were they thinking?! I swear, if I had…. Shit, they’re back….)

Hey you! We were just discussing how much we like your new hair/glasses/boyfriend/girlfriend (delete as applicable).

Anyway, to summarise that previous entry: parents of multiple children will always have a favourite. The preferred child will naturally alter from day to day, as the  behaviour of their various offspring fluctuates, but at any given moment, if pushed, they will be able to name which of their children they like the best.

Judge me all you want, but you know deep down it’s true. In fact, over the last two-and-a-bit years since we were ‘blessed’ with Isaac, I don’t mind admitting that my favourite child has often been someone else’s. I just couldn’t bring myself to select one of our two.

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But, if I had to restrict my choice to one of our own boys over the past two years, more often than not it would have been Ollie. Don’t get me wrong, I love Isaac to bits – he’s adorable, loving and hilarious at times – but it’s hard to select him as my favourite, when he is the primary cause of my sleep-deprivation, stress, and the fact that my gentleman’s potatoes are frequently black and blue.

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“If you talk to me again, I will take this ice cream cone, and I will hurt you…”

So, although I don’t want to place either of my children on an internet auction site at this very moment in time, if push had come to shove over the past two years, I’d have been dragging Isaac down to the Post Office, wrapped in brown paper (with air holes, I’m not a complete monster) to check how much the delivery charge would be.

That was, until the last few weeks. If Isaac is indeed a nocturnal demon from the fiery pits of hell (I don’t care what that Priest said when he came round), then some of his evil power has passed to Ollie of late. I don’t know what has happened, or what we have done wrong to deserve it, but as soon as Isaac’s behaviour has mellowed slightly, Ollie has taken it upon himself to act like an utter dick, and it has taken us completely by surprise.

You see, the baby books (and other parents) will often warn you about new born children, and how much hard work they are, so that by the time you actually get to the screaming and shitting stage, you are at least partially prepared for it, and it doesn’t come as such a shock. Then, once she’s given birth, you have a baby to deal with (joke).

Later, once you have finally acclimatised to the lack of sleep, the depleted bank balance, and the utter horror of finding a brown stain on your clothes at work (‘please God, let this be chocolate’), you begin to hear about the ‘Terrible Twos’.

I initially assumed this phrase referred to the side-effects of weaning your child onto solid food, but as Ollie’s second birthday loomed, it dawned on me that I had got it all wrong. The ‘two’ was in fact referring to the child’s age, rather than their nappy consistency. I must have looked a right idiot, when referring to the ‘Terrible Twos’ that I had suffered, after a particularly spicy Madras the night before.

New parents might be forgiven for thinking that, once your child turns three, the problems simply melt away, and so long as you have put sufficient time, effort and expense into growing and nurturing your wretched offspring, the fruits of your labours will suddenly become clear, as they blossom into a wonderfully happy three-year-old.

Nope.

Next, comes the ‘Thoroughly Crappy Threes’ (yes, I know the widely-recognised term is now ‘Threenager’, but that phrase makes me shudder with disgust, so I refuse to adopt it – or interact with anyone who does – in the same way I won’t ever use the phrases ‘Chillax’, ‘Brangelina’ or ‘Brexit’).

Regardless of what you want to call it, that final year before the sheer bliss of your child sodding off to school, is just as demanding as those preceding it, if not more so. They still cry and stink and ruin your house, but now they’re more intelligent and manipulative. A dangerous combination.

But then, as far as I can see, that’s it. I don’t know of anyone who has come up with a witty name for bad behaviour from the age of four upwards. There is certainly, to my knowledge, no technical term to explain what the fuck has happened to Ollie since he turned six and, more accurately, since he started Year 2 at school.

It’s like he has regressed to being a baby, yet developed into a stroppy teenager, all at the same time. Maybe I’ll copyright the phrase ‘Stroppy Sixes’, before anyone else beats me to it (bugger, just checked on Google, and someone has already coined the term ‘Stroppy Sevens’, so I might need to think of something else. ‘Splenetic Sixes’ maybe? Thank you, online Thesaurus).

I am well aware that kids can get grumpy, stroppy, bolshy and thoroughly unpleasant when the teenage years – and especially puberty – hits them, but if Ollie is starting seven years early, I’m not sure I can handle it. I’m all for him being advanced for his age, but unless the flip side is that he will move out and get a job when he turns 11, then I’m heading for a breakdown of some description.

In recent weeks, we have been repeatedly told that we have ruined his day/year/life, shortly before he stamps his feet and storms off to his bedroom (that’ll be the room full of toys and nice things, of course), and this is often in response to the most minor of indiscretions on our part – such as asking him to put his shoes on for school, or suggesting that perhaps five bowls of cereal is sufficient for one sitting.

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Sullen

So, whilst I still love both of my boys unconditionally, if I had been forced to give up one of them over the past few weeks, it would have been Ollie on his way to Sandbach market, to see if I could perhaps exchange him for something more useful – such as a new stereo, a PS4, or some magic beans.

He’s on very thin ice.

Addendum

This week’s entry – which I finished yesterday – was intended to be a tongue-in-cheek illustration of how, deep down, parents will have a favourite child at any given time. No one in their right mind would actually trade a child (well, except for Madonna and Angelina Jolie perhaps)… until now.

Last night, Isaac again ended up in our bed, sandwiched between us, with the sole intention of using me as a punch-bag. He woke us shortly after midnight, then again at 4am, 5am, and 6am, until I finally gave up and dragged his sorry arse downstairs for breakfast.

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Ollie  is therefore my favourite again, and Isaac is officially up for sale.

I’m not even joking. I was going to offer him to the highest bidder, but after last night, I might just stick him on Freecycle.

If I don’t get any takers in the next week or so, I’m tempted to simply release him back into the wild.

All enquiries to sandbachhatter@hotmail.co.uk.

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