Wednesday, December 01, 2010

‘Daddy. Am I a Geordie?’

Our house is at the foot of a hill. Last week we were snowed in for 6 days. I say ‘we’. I was snowed in with 2 small children for 4 of them. Maude soldiered up the hill and went to teach the few damp stragglers who turned up to learn from her.

Each time the snow began afresh Aurora stood at the window and exclaimed ‘It’s Christmas Daddy!’

I found it hard to share her enthusiasm.

On the morning of Day 3 I heard on the news that the police had issued a warning to revellers in Newcastle. The warning went something like: ‘no matter how tough you are, how much money you’ve spent on your new weekend outfit and how much warming alcohol you plan to drink, wear some clothes or you may well die in the sub-zero temperatures.’

‘Those Geordies’ I sighed. As I encouraged Aurora to eat her croissant, I could see that she was preoccupied.

‘Daddy. Am I a Geordie?’

‘No, no, no dear. The Geordies aren’t as tall as we are.’

‘OK. They say  ‘I done’ and ‘I seen’ too. Don’t they?’

‘That’s right poppet.’

Aurora went about her business of drawing more brightly coloured images of pigs with chicken pox with her ‘smooth pens’ (felt tips). Jocasta giggled and did lengths of the kitchen on her walker.

As the snow began to fall again I took to the window seat and wondered how long we would be stuck in this situation. Just how long would I be kept away from the glamour of Sunderland?

I made the mistake of picking up my Blackberry and opening another ‘URGENT – ACTION REQUIRED’ email from Morag.

I pressed ‘delete’.

I then noticed a figure on Desmond’s drive next door. Maude had mentioned that Desmond’s son Bobby had acquired a girlfriend, but this was the first time I had seen her. Against explicit police advice, Bobby’s friend was dressed in a light dressing gown over pyjamas and fluffy slippers. Celia clearly had quite a strict rule about smoking in the house, but the young woman was not to be deterred. She dragged on her cigarette with relish and used her hand to shield the flame. Her hair and shoulders carried a significant dusting of snow – I suspected that she was smoking her second or third cigarette.

I felt a small presence at my elbow.

‘That’s a Geordie isn’t it Daddy?’

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

On Holiday By Mistake

At the weekend just gone we were ‘on holiday by mistake.’

Various friends with young children were going to experience the ‘Winter Wonderland’ at Centerparcs in Cumbria. The children involved were all Aurora’s playmates, so we thought we would join in, primarily for her sake. The Centerparcs formula is impressively simple:

  • Charge a king’s ransom for tired and basic self-catering accommodation in a picturesque woodland setting.

  • Make setting remote from any ordinary shops and entertainment.

  • Provide shops and ‘entertainment’ with eye-wateringly high prices and hope that holiday spending money delusion works against the generation of too many complaints from customers.

The experience was a bit like joining a cult exclusively for vulnerable and tired people with small children: people stripped of the energy and/or the imagination to organise anything more original for themselves.

The swimming pool was enjoyable – especially for the children. Aurora played with her playmates and Jocasta squeeled with joy as Maude carried her and strode into the artificially generated eddies and ripples. Jungle drums signalled the onset of waves on the hour. A digital display flashed WAVE ON to increase the anticipation and Aurora clung to Daddy and yelped as each wave hit.

For me, the best part of the Centerparcs swimming pool experience was the opportunity to survey the woeful physical condition of the other dads. They were, in the main, podgy. It has to be said that their podginess helped them stay steadfast against the waves, but it also created unfortunate ripples and wobbles of flesh as they moved around the space age dome which covered the pool. The dome gave the whole scene a look of ‘Logan’s Run’ in reverse. Only the over 30 and out of shape were allowed to stay. The attractive and under 30 were terminated - unless they managed to crack the formidable boundary defences and reached the bright lights of Keswick.

Friday, October 15, 2010

New Shocks

My mechanic, Paul, is economical with words. He is, after all, a busy man with skills.

Paul calls and doesn’t introduce himself, he just details the problem you currently have.  

‘You need new shocks and bushes.’

This is what he told me a couple of months ago.

‘I know that Paul, but what about the car.’ Paul had sighed his usual sigh and continued ‘£135 plus VAT, do you want us to go ahead?’

I think I actually made Paul laugh, or at least smile, once, in 2006. He’s impervious to my wit, but a comical slip by a tall man on his oily forecourt seemed to hit the spot.  

‘Daddy’s funny little car’ - as Aurora calls it - has been ailing again. The warning lights have been taking turns at coming on over the last few weeks. My morning turn of the ignition key had begun to feel a bit like pulling the handle on a one-armed bandit – with the daily prospect of a jackpot. The jackpot: all warning lights glaring and beeping, car kaput, no way to get to Sunderland, back in the house to help Aurora assemble Mr Potato Head in the most grotesque attitude possible.

I knew as soon as ‘Paul’ flashed on my phone screen again that I was in for a pithy assessment.

‘You’re not firing on all cylinders.’ 

I was unsurprised, almost relieved. I suppose I just needed someone to say it.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Bunk Up

I love camping accessories. I have a garage full of lightweight and well-designed outdoor versions of everything else in the house: a miniature table that folds away into a tiny pouch, a dinky kettle, even special matches that light in Scottish weather.

I don’t like camping.

Maude mentioned the possibility of a camping trip to The Lakes with the girls.

‘Imagine Aurora banging in a tent-peg with a miniature mallet. Her own little billycan of cassoulet. Jocasta giggling in the light of the campfire. It would be enough to melt the cold heart of any cynical, grumpy old anti-camper.’

Our trip to Spain was in the early summer. My wife was quite insistent that she couldn’t possibly endure the rest of the holiday without some excursions.

Maude’s face flashed on my Blackberry screen during a ‘catch up’ meeting with Morag yesterday. I excused myself from Morag’s monologue and answered in the corridor.

‘The silly woman won’t accept my card, so you’ll have to pay.’

Unbeknown to me our bridesmaid, Janice, had recommended a campsite near Ullswater.

‘Oh, perhaps I forgot to mention it. I’ve provisionally booked a campsite in The Lakes for you, me, the girls, Harriet and Morton, their kids, Seth and Bella and their two. The woman who answers the phone is obviously the farmer’s wife and can’t work the card machine. Could you call her and sort it out. The place is called something like Sunny Dell. You’ll have to Google it. You’re paying everyone’s deposit. Bye.’

After calling three campsites with names like, but not, ‘Sunny Dell’ I located the correct farmer’s wife and completed the booking.

Last night I took to my room (the garage) for the enjoyable part of the plan: the equipment check. I replaced batteries, put up the miniature table, counted the tent pegs, located the mallet, inserted a gas canister into our new camping stove and lit it with my special matches, made a cup of tea, sat on camping chair and drank tea, inflated an inflatable bed, lay on it for a few minutes, heard Maude calling, put down miniature table, deflated bed, turned off garage light, re-entered kitchen.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Girl with the Courgette Tattoo

Maude has decided that having children need not signal the death of our social life.

After reading one of her lifestyle magazines, my wife exclaimed:

‘Cocktails! In the house. No babysitter to pay, no taxi fares. Cocktails!’

A mint patch has been cultivated in the garden and the new drinks cabinet has been stocked.

‘There’s plenty of mint for mojitos and Morten’s bringing the ingredients for a few other recipes. Harriet tells me he’s a wizard with a blender.’

Harriet and Morten are newly coupled. Harriet and Maude met at a mothering group when Harriet was still married to Fred. From very early on Harriet talked about leaving Fred. I took this with a pinch of salt – Maude talks about leaving me on a daily basis.

Then Harriet left Fred and took her daughter, Bronwen, back to The Lakes.

Arrangements were made with Fred and then Morten arrived on the scene – on a very large motorbike. With the speed of a superhero in a phone booth, Harriet donned leathers and straddled Morten’s impressive engine as often as childcare allowed.

Kenny and Simone were also invited for cocktails. Kenny too has a motorbike, but it didn’t seem worthwhile to get Simone into leather for the trip – they only live 2 doors away.

Morten took control of the cocktail preparation and maintained a steady flow of mojitos and strawberry daquiries. Maude and I were happy to delegate and distribute the drinks to our guests on the terrace. The terrace overlooks our kitchen garden. As I arrived with a tray of drinks I noticed Kenny and Simone peering over the fence into the raised vegetable beds.

‘I see your courgettes have failed,’ observed Simone with a faux pained expression.

‘Not in the least,’ I replied. ‘I chose a miniature variety this year, so that Aurora could pick them easily.’

Simone smiled an indulgent smile and reached for her phone.

‘We went for a giant variety’, she said as she flashed an image of Kenny posing with a courgette the size of a toddler.

Kenny is a former soldier. He and Simone share a penchant for tattoos.

‘Simone’s getting a new one on Tuesday – right across her back. A dragon.’

Kenny and I were in the kitchen with Harriet. Harriet was thrilled at all the tattoo talk – she and Morten were contemplating some body art expressing their newfound love in østnorsk.

‘Only problem is‘, continued Kenny, ’she can’t decide what to put in the dragon’s hands. I was thinking Samurai sword in one and a red rose in the other – to symbolise the opposing sides of her personality.’

Thankfully Simone was out of earshot. I could see that she and Maude were stood looking into my vegetable plot with the sombre expressions of funeral-goers looking into a grave. I tried to help Kenny with his quandary.

‘Not sure she would go for that, Ken. The dragon, I believe, already symbolises strength. I’d suggest a design that shows that strength coupled with horticultural skill: dragon proudly holding courgettes of garden fete-winning dimensions.’

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

'Warm Retards'

You really shouldn't be blasé with spellcheckers on email. Sure, they’ll pick up on misspelt words when the misspelling spells an incomprehensible word, but they don’t notice legitimate words creeping in where they really shouldn’t. Sadie got an email from a colleague who signed off with ‘warm retards’. I suggested that it might be a call to action – in which case how could we refuse? Warmth is the least they can expect.

Morag is seemingly unaware of the existence of spellchecking for emails. She writes her emails at speed and the end result could often pass as the work of Stanley Unwin. I could offer to help and make her look less hasty and less foolish, but I never seem to find the time.

Teachers are usually more careful - and quite formal - with their email correspondence. They only let themselves down with their undying attachment to the Comic Sans font. Recently I received an email from a primary school head teacher in Sunderland. Negotiations between her, a filmmaker and our nominated Creative Challenger had been lengthy and a project plan had been hammered out to everyone’s satisfaction over a period of several weeks. She was finding it hard to contain her excitement and made my day by writing that she was ‘moist excited’ at the prospect of working with me.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Back in my Box

‘In you go then,’ said Norman, ‘I haven’t got all day.’

‘Are you sure, Norman?’

‘Well, you’re on the inventory, so you’ll have to go in one of the boxes. This one’s big enough and there’s plenty of bubble wrap in it. I’ve drilled a couple of air holes – you’ll be fine’

Sometimes I write things down that really I shouldn’t.

When I entered myself on the inventory for our office move, it was more out of bored mischief than anything else:

Month purchased: 11.02
Item description: Communications Manager

Norman is a stickler for procedure. I respect that. I was cc’d into his 3 page email to the university porters detailing access and egress points and I was reassured that nothing at all was being left to chance. Perhaps it was in an attempt to emulate Norman’s efficiency that I completed the inventory. Perhaps it was an unconscious sense of horror at this need to emulate Norman that compelled me to add myself to said inventory. Perhaps it was Norman’s recognition of this motivation that compelled him to insist that I got in the box.

There’s nothing like being in a tea crate for several hours to encourage reflection. My year at The National Clay Pipe Centre began badly – I was palpably less welcome than the dowry I brought with me of office furniture and modern stationery. I recall how the Pipe Centre staff marvelled and gasped as Norman demonstrated the many benefits of the newly arrived post-it notes.

In time, though, the Pipe people warmed to me. I began to be included when tea was brewed – sometimes they even washed my cup. After only a few weeks, my name was added to the signing in sheet. I was even offered staff discount in the Pipe Centre shop (pipes make marvellous Christmas stocking fillers).

A few of my new colleagues even offered kind words when Jocasta was born in January. A poor substitute for a gift and/or a card, but small steps in the right direction. It’s almost a shame that I won’t be sharing their cramped, malodorous, windowless office space any longer.