Proving my Manhood…in the Snow

On Saturday I took a big step toward becoming the man I need to be.

When you become a father you are instantly tasked with an array of manly duties, the sort of complex tasks that previously you would rely on your own dad (or maybe father-in-law) to easily complete. This can range from bleeding radiators, to erecting complex flat pack furniture or even plumbing washing machines.

For so long I have been inept when it comes to engineering or DIY, but already I have mastered a number of those important dad duties. It was a steep learning curve, and there have been a number of slight mishaps and uttered profanities; but through a combination of sound advice and sheer determination I am yet to completely fail.

But on Saturday I was provided with my most challenging masculine task to date, as it concerned the most complex and difficult of essential life items…the family car.

We had just completed a comfortable two hour journey down the M4 to Wootton Bassett, just outside Swindon. I was driving my little boy to his first ever birthday party, organised by my wife’s cousin for her son. It promised to be quite an event, complete with ‘soft play’, fishfingers and pass the parcel. Unfortunately I was to miss it all…

On arrival the dashboard on my stylish new Ford S-Max started flashing and bleeping frantically – a bulb had blown in one of our headlamps. “Don’t worry darling, I shall fix this!” I announced…this was man’s work. I had noticed a petrol station a few miles back, and anticipated a simple purchase and even easier basic procedure. So I left them to enjoy the party and set off on my quest.

On purchasing the correct bulb, referenced from my owners manual, I returned to the pub car park and set to work. Surely I simply needed to remove the plastic headlamp cover and quickly exchange the bulb. As I just double checked the manual the first flake of snow landed on my windscreen – then the heavens opened.

And it got worse…page 65 made it clear that this was far from a simple procedure. I was going to have to disconnect and remove the entire front lighting unit, navigate a complex lamp system (full beam, dipped beam, fog lights etc.) and then change the correct bulb from the rear.

Four hours later, as the sun set, and the blizzard blanketed Wiltshire, this major feat of engineering was finally complete. It had taken another trip to the garage (the original bulb was wrong), a journey to my wife’s cousin’s house (to find the correct multi-head screwdriver), numerous cut hands and two more wannabe expert dads to complete this simple task. Finally the three of us stood and marvelled at our wondrous achievement – two working headlamps and plenty of light (for the three hour drive back through the heavy snow).

Just then my wife and son emerged from the warmth of the party. Apparently it was really good fun and they were now both ‘extremely tired’… the food was good too!

Despite having toiled all afteenoon in the arctic conditions, I was warmed by that true sense of achievement that only a real man can feel…I had mastered the car headlamp, and can now add this to my growing list of expertise. Who says fatherhood isn’t easy?

The Parent Relay

A Lament for The Loss of Freedom:

When you’re expecting everyone is quick to warn you about the horrors that await when the baby is born. Mostly these concentrate on the lack of sleep, extreme fatigue, escalted stress and financial burden.

Don’t get me wrong it is tough, but most of these exhausting obstacles are overcome in a few hard and fast months. In the short-term all new parents suffer as they struggle through the new born trepedations.

But it all gets easier. I emerged from my fuzz at about 5 months and since then it has been a steady slope of slow mental improvement. You start to get you life back…almost.

It’s Friday night – I have had a long, tough, stressful work week, but instead of heading out to blow off some steam I am trekking home to relieve my still shattered wife. It’s her turn – she is heading out into London tonight to grab a ‘few’ glasses of wine and glance into her former life – when I arrive back the torch (monitor) will be passed. And I certainly don’t deny her this rare opportunity. I at least have some sense of normality, I go to work, interact with ‘grown-ups’ on a daily basis and ocassionally get the opportunity myself to nip out for a few beers after work. Her only source of interaction is a largey incoherent, messy, demanding 14month old.

But I’m still jealous, not necessarily of her, but of my happy group of colleagues, intent of celebrating the weekend for a few hours down the local. No doubt on Monday morning stories will be regailed of another epic night of fun-filled, alcohol-fuelled excitement.

When you are free to be spontaneous you don’t appreciate what you have. A quick drink after work, or a long dark heavy Friday night, is a privilege that can quickly be taken away.

I love my little boy, I love spending time with him, and his perfect smile is so much more rewarding than the wash at the bottom of a pint glass. But I still fancy a ‘few’ beers after work at the end of the week…

And we can never go out together. Not only do did I enjoy the group sessions I also love to spend the evening out with my amazing wife. That too is now off the agenda, at any one point in time he must be guarded (and he is asleep by 7pm).

God I sound so miserable…I’m not.

If I am being honest it’s just not that bad. I was usually too tired to last past 11pm and have always been the one to retire early to the warmth and comfort of my 12.5tog.

And it’s minus seven tonight in London Town. My poor tired wife is heading out into the Siberian winter, while I have a cosy, centrally heated, evening planned of pizza in front of the TV – maybe life ‘ain’t so tough!

Dirty Dawgs

It’s a lovely crisp clear day in London, and as the sun rose this morning on my short walk to North Sheen station the sky lit up with an array of soft colour. However I didn’t have the chance to wonder at nature’s natural beauty…no, I had to treacherously navigate my small suburban street with my eyes fixed firmly on the pavement.

For as usual throughout my morning stroll I had to weave my way through the minefield of daily dog turd.

I live within 10 minutes of the spacious Richmond Park and the wondrous Kew Gardens; my neighbourhood is a dog walkers paradise. But almost all of these mutts seem to disregard their animal’s deposits, leaving them for the dog-less masses to smear and stick to shoes, wheels and hallway rugs.

And more recently for me the issue has become all the more relevant and frustrating. Although my little boy can now toddle (just), in order to transport him any distance I must fish out my impressive off-road pushchair. It’s hydraulic suspension and chunky wheels can easily negotiate the tough Richmond Park terrain, but unfortunately it is also a magnet for the nasty brown stuff…

At least once a month I have to mix up a bucket of detergent and scrub down every floor in my house, to prevent my baby from crawling around in the gruesome poo trail that his pushchair has smeared from room to room.

I don’t blame the animals, they are unintelligent and much further down the evolutionary scale. Unfortunately it seems that in my area so are their owners…

The Big Debate: Thomas vs. Chuggington

Although this subject will mean absolutely nothing to many, millions in The UK will immediately recognise the importance of this life defining issue. It’s a debate that on the surface seems pointless but stands for something much more important than an infantile programming choice.

Thomas the Tank Engine is an institution, that has influenced and entertained generations. As I look up and down my crowded underground train I am confident that most would instantly recognise that happy theme tune. If I were to ask the man to my right to identify “The Fat Controller” I’m sure he could give me a detailed description (although I haven’t actually put this to the test). TTTE holds legendary status – it was even narrated by a Beatle!

But Thomas has a pretender to his crown…

Chuggington is modern, colourful, exciting and already starting to muscle into the train related children’s TV niche. It doesn’t focus on old, dated, slow, steam trains, with aged upper class voiceovers – it introduces fun, relevant, electric, young engines, training to take over the railway network. Chuggington is educational, relevant and already a favourite of the new generation.

Thomas definitely feels threatened.

In fact he has been completely revamped in the face of the Chuggington threat. That famous theme tune is no more, and Ringo has been sent to the scrap heap, replaced with a new younger model.

I find it desperately sad to see the demise of Thomas, but I have to be honest, as a bored father I would rather turn over to CBeebies and watch the new train generation. Thomas will always hold a place in my heart, but I am now a Chuggington man.

And as my little boy is still too young to operate the remote, I tend to switch to CBeebies and leave it running (although this is mainly because the mums proclaim it as educational) – so the chances are Chuggington will now be his train show of choice.

But whether it’s Chuggs or Thomas showing on my 32inch plasma, at least I can watch still watch the sport on my laptop….thank goodness for SkyGO.

A Clean and Tidy Relationship

It’s Monday morning and before I left the house today I completed arguably the most important part of my weekly routine; I carefully counted out £27 and left them clearly visible on the kitchen countertop. Monday is ‘cleaning day’ – for three hours the lovely Camilla transforms my house from a filthy squat into a neat, sweet, family home.

Why is this so important? Well I find that there is a direct link between the cleanliness and stability of my domestic life.

I will never call myself a relationship expert. Prior to meeting my now wife, girlfriends tended to last a maximum of three months before the inevitable explosive argument would prematurely finalise each brief fiery encounter. And during the early days, this relationship looked likely to follow the same predictable script. We moved in together in the summer of 2006 and our honeymoon harmony soon disappeared, replaced by a cheap point scoring system as we fought for the higher ground on almost every issue.

However, we moved through this dangerous period, largely because we pinpointed the central pivot that underlay our shaky imbalance – household contribution. Who made more effort in the running and general upkeep of our ‘happy little home’? Now if I am being honest she was usually right – without doubt she contributed more. But I could not give way, I am never one to admit defeat, so together we came up with a simple solution that would revolutionise our day-to-day existence.

I hope you heed this important lesson – my cleaner has saved my relationship (now in its sixth year). In fact the decision to shell out for a three hour deep clean (at £9 an hour) has allowed for a relaxed marriage and even led to a new household addition…who now easily contributes by far the most mess.

Baby Telepathy

Apologies, no entry on the commute home yesterday – I met one of my old university housemates for a couple of beers near Waterloo. As predicted two beers morphed into six (and a meaty mezze from Tas) and I was in no state to type as I swayed on the train home…

But as I crept stealthily through my front door (at 10.45pm) I wasn’t greeted with the sweet silence of a sleeping wife and child – far from it. My little 13 month old son was doing his best to inform my neighbours, and their neighbours, that he was very much awake. Immediately I was hit with the heartfelt dread that perhaps I wasn’t quite as neat, contained and quiet in my arrival as I had previously believed.

“Oh no,” I half-whispered to my fiery looking wife, “did I just wake him?”

The relief on my face was obvious as she explained that he had erupted about 30 seconds before I rustled in. It could not have been my fault – I was at least 50 feet from the house, too far to have caused this sudden explosion.

Eventually after much bouncing and a shot of Calpol, he finally settled at about midnight. A particularly long day considering the 5.45 wake-up for my aforementioned exceptionally early commute in.

Lying in bed, desperately willing him to sleep, I had too much time to consider an unlikely coincidence. Over 18 hours earlier, moments before my unusually early morning alarm, he had let out a whimper, then a gurgle, and was obviously awake. My shower and breakfast had been punctuated with a light, happy chatting from behind his closed nursery door. Apparently my wife finally went to him moments after I had exited.

So twice in the past 24hrs my son had woken at an unusual and random time, which happened to coincide to within minutes of my emergence.

Years ago I watched a documentary, which attempted to prove that animals (namely dogs and cats) could accurately predict their owners’ arrival home. The tested animals were left at home as their owners went out at random times. Each time, the dogs especially, would become very animated within five minutes of their owners’ re-arrival, despite their being no obvious indicators that they were about to return home. The expert concluded that this “must” be down to unique telepathic ability that we as humans will never fully understand.

Now I don’t religiously accept every 9pm Channel4 documentary as absolute fact. It was hardly conclusive proof of a strange, revolutionary phenomena. But…maybe the documentary did tap into elements of truth. Maybe more primitive animals can use a telepathic field in a way we cannot comprehend.

And if dogs can do it, why not babies?

It’s amazing what wild ideas can be concocted with the help of sleep deprivation, lots of grilled meat and 6 premium lagers….